Scientists have long known the benefits of a nurturing parent, but it turns out loving care can quite literally grow a child’s brain.
Not only does early nurturing have an impact on a child’s ability to adapt socially and psychologically, and to perform well in school, it also enlarges a region of the brain called the hippocampus, an area involved with learning, memory and stress management.
Scientists in a 2012 study ran brain scans on children ages 7 to 10 who, years earlier, had been assessed as mentally healthy. Scans revealed that the mentally healthy children who had nurturing mothers had nearly a 10 percent larger hippocampus.
“This study, to my knowledge, is the first that actually shows an anatomical change in the brain, which really provides validation for the very large body of early childhood development literature that had been highlighting the importance of early parenting and nurturing,” wrote lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry. “[It] validates something that seems to be intuitive, which is just how important nurturing parents are to creating adaptive human beings.”
Although nearly all parents involved in the nurturing study were mothers, researchers noted that the positive effects in the brain would likely come from any primary caregiver—father, grandparent or adoptive parent.