Controlling stress: Why love matters

baby smiles when mom kissed him

Every parent has heard how early experiences define a child’s future, but most people underestimate the importance of love and stability during infancy to manage stress.

It’s also known that it is important to create a bond with our little ones. A great deal of the brain’s biochemistry and structure is determined during a baby’s first months. Also, research has proven that most problems found in childhood and adolescence like aggression, hyperactivity, depression, and poor school performance are related to early experiences.

How do our brains work?

Human brains have many common characteristics with those of other animals. What differentiates us from every other species is the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex, particularly the pre-frontal section, also known as the social brain.

This part is in charge of emotional control, awareness of other people’s emotions, and empathy. This area is not innate or works automatically like most of the brain and we aren’t born with anything hard-wired in it. This part is conscious and malleable, most of it shaped by early experiences.

Right after birth, a baby doesn’t have many neural connections (synapses), and most of them are created during the first year. This is when the brain has the most neural synapses. After the first year, a process called pruning begins, where only the circuits that are used the most stay, while others are lost.

The stress response

Biochemical pathways are mostly established during infancy, the two most important ones being the stress response and the soothing system.

Babies feel stress in situations where they feel unsafe, for example when they’re being separated from their caregiver or are physically hurt. When a baby is stressed, cortisol, a hormone, is released in the brain. In adults, cortisol generates a short burst of energy that allows them to cope with any inherent danger or any other type of stress. However, infants need an adult or caregiver to calm them down because they are unable to protect themselves from danger or stress.

For this reason, they are easily stressed and cannot mitigate their stress response. That is why most people who have a good childhood and bond with parents, develop resilience and learn to manage problems without stressing too much. On the other hand, if adults fail to respond, babies may develop an unusual response to cortisol. This has a long-term negative effect during adulthood, making it harder for them to recover from stressful situations and have good emotion management skills. That’s why experiences in the early stages of life have the power to change brain chemistry.

Prevent stress with love and care

Too much cortisol affects your baby’s brain structure. Children who were chronically stressed as infants may show a smaller prefrontal area, and it may cause changes in their personality when they grow older.

This is why all the experiences your baby has will be crucial for the future connection and development of trillions of neurons. The emotional bond you form with your little one will have a long-term effect on their general development and in the way they interact with others. By tending to their needs, giving them love and support, and showing them how much you love them, you’ll create a solid foundation of trust that could last forever!

When it comes to infants: you reap what you sow. To have a calm, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent child, you must portray those qualities. That is why love matters; spending quality time together is crucial for your child’s development. Help and teach them how to manage their behavior, pay attention to their feelings, and tend to them when they need it by being a good role model.


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