The Science of Parenting (or is it?)
Early years is a hot topic. We scatter broad terms like brain development, early intervention, and learning through play without explaining exactly what we mean. Of course brains develop – and they will do so because of their environment and interaction with the world. We never say how or why. We just say that they do – and this is what you do to help them.
Recent early years research has shed an enormous light on the developing child. We’ve learned a lot about how the ways we interact with children influences them in their earliest years but also all throughout their life. We now have information about how the brain works to process interaction when a parent and a child share books, play, talk and sing together. We know not only how it benefits the child, but also the parents.
As neuroscientists learn more about the effects of interaction on the brain, why shouldn’t they share this information with parents? The issue is that we need to keep it positive. The message can’t be threatening to parents that they walk away thinking they’re a bad parent or that they’re not doing enough. The message has to empower and boost their confidence. It should show them what they are doing and what positive effect it has and what they can do.
Critics argue that social policy that focuses on the parent-child bond is a waste of resources. They dismiss neuroscience and claim it is now ‘neuro-trash’. They argue that promoting parent and child interaction does nothing but make some parents feel guilty about what they’re not doing.
I strongly disagree. We need to give parents key messages to help them understand the benefits of what they’re doing and work with parents to develop their own solutions and practice. Every parent and every child is different. Some parents will need more guidance and support than others. They might face other issues, or they might come from a home where no one read to them, played with them or spoke to them. It’s important to help these families understand the benefits and support them to do this with their children.
For some families, recent neuroscience discoveries can scientifically explain the benefits of what they do naturally. For other families, encouraging interaction and modelling behaviour is a necessary activity to boost the parent’s confidence but also demonstrate and promote behaviour they might not have experienced as a young child.
Our family and our society shape our behaviour and our view of the world. We need to take the lessons learned from developmental brain science and encourage every parent to interact and engage with their child in a positive way. We can help every parent – regardless of his or her educational background or financial situation – raise a happy child.