Why are baby boys more vulnerable when facing stress?

As we now know, babies’ brains are highly vulnerable especially during the first months of life.

Opposite as we once thought, every move we make as parents has an impact either positive or negative on our children. For so long we have misunderstood how babies develop, and that explains why we have treated baby boys differently. Cultures and religions have influenced too on how we educate our children. We have developed ideas on how tough we should be with our children and we have been tougher with baby boys, since we believe that if we are too caring or responsive we may spoil our boys. However, the truth is that all babies need responsive care and affection to grow physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy.

Dr. Allan N. Schore, a clinician-scientist at UCLA who specializes in attachment and brain development, has investigated the developmental neurobiology and neuroendocrinology of baby boys. Schore (2017) explains why baby boys are more vulnerable than girls when facing stressful environments or unresponsive care. According to Schore (2017), boys brains mature slower in almost every area including social, physical, and linguistic areas. Moreover, in boys brains the brain circuitries that regulate stress mature slower and have less built-in mechanisms to foster resiliency against stress. These are some of the reasons why experiences that occur early in life influence baby boys more than girls.

Furthermore, studies have shown that baby boys are more vulnerable to unresponsive care, prenatal stress, and separation from their mother right after being born. These environmentally stressful situations negatively impact the areas of the brain that are related to self-control and socialization. Also, baby boys show a higher reaction to negative stimuli and present higher cortisol levels when they are born. In addition, Schore mentions about another study that shows that baby girls can regulate their affective states more than boys do. This means that baby boys can be greatly affected by a stressful environment and unresponsive caring (less than optimal maternal responsiveness or sensitivity).

We can conclude that as baby boys’ brain development mature slower, they are much more vulnerable than girls are to developmental disorders like autism and ADHD. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t worry about baby girls, as all babies need caring and responsive parenting. But rather, it’s a call to treat all babies with sensitivity and affection, as these may greatly impact and promote a healthy socioemotional development.

 

References:

Schore, A. N. (2017). All Our Sons: The Developmental Neurobiology And Neuroendocrinology Of Boys At Risk. Infant Mental Health Journal, 38(1), 15-52. doi:10.1002/imhj.21616

Narvaez, D. (2017, January 08). Be Worried About Boys, Especially Baby Boys. Retrieved May 16, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201701/be-worried-about-boys-especially-baby-boys

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