Harsh Parenting isn’t Good for Your Child’s Brain

A recent study by the University of Montreal focused on parenting practices and how they can cause long-term effects on children’s brains. The study highlighted how harsh parenting and aggressive behavior towards children could hinder their brain development.

Given that the children’s adolescent years are vital for their overall development, nagging, yelling, hitting, and shaking can damage your child.

Science Daily covers the story in its recent post.

Repeated Angry Behavior

Dr. Sabrina Suffren at the University of Montreal and researchers from Stanford University took on the joint venture to understand parental traits’ effects. The study showed that regularly confronting your child has links with their brain development.

Interestingly, the harsh traits covered in the study are globally accepted and practiced. Hence, it shows the negligent attitude towards children and their mental development. Even the most advanced countries like Canada have shown such a lenient attitude towards handling children.

Dr. Suffren believes that the consequences are way more than just reduced brain development. She emphasized that parents and society must understand how badly a negative attitude impacts a child’s brain.

The lead author of the study states that abusive behaviors impact children’s emotional and social development and brain development.

Extreme child abuse, either physical, emotional, or sexual, has shown a connection with depression and anxiety in later life stages. Some previous studies indicate that children who go through intense abuse often have smaller amygdala and prefrontal cortex.

These two structures are primarily responsible for regulating emotions, anxiety, and depression in children.  

So, the researchers focused on these two regions in the current study. Upon research, they found that the two areas were comparably smaller in children who faced harsh parenting during childhood.

Although the children did not face the same behavior any longer, the effects of early age abuse still resided in them.

According to Dr. Suffren, these may be new findings and hold significance as harsh parenting is often an unnoticed trait in our society. She believes that it’s the first time when such traits have shown connections with smaller brain sizes. It’s the same as that of abuse victims.

The study was a part of Dr. Suffren’s doctoral thesis at the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal. Dr. Francoise Maheu and Franco Lepore supervised the thesis that hits on a sensitive yet critical subject.

Furthermore, Dr. Suffren mentions a study from 2019 that indicates how harsh parenting can potentially change brain function in children. Her contribution to the study means that it’s not just the brain function but also the size affected by such parenting traits.

Children’s Data from Monitoring Since Birth

CHU Saint-Justine was also a partner in this study that provided some critical information to the researchers. It’s one of the reasons why this study is so authentic and widely accepted. CHU Saint-Justine provided data of children they were monitoring since birth from the early 2000s.

Dr. Jean Sequin, Dr. Richard Tremblay, Dr. Michel Boivin were the three members who supervised the monitoring.  

The monitoring activities encircled analysis of children’s anxiety levels on an annual basis. All children were between two and nine years old. The children were further divided into groups based on consistently harsh parenting during their childhood.

In addition to working on children’s brain size, Dr. Suffren also studied children’s anxiety levels. For this purpose, she performed anatomical MRIs on children aged between 12 and 16 years old.

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Conclusion

Children have a sensitive mind, and they quickly take things to heart. Therefore, behaviors such as harsh parenting and angry disciplining can have severe impacts on their tiny brains.

The study from Dr. Suffren and her colleagues is the first of its kind. However, it unearths some intense and eye-opening facts about child abuse and harsh parenting. The links that might have been limited to brain function earlier also indicate that they can hinder brain development and size.

So, as parents, where we are supposed to nurture and discipline our kids, it is also essential to maintain a balanced approach towards the children. As parents, the focus must be to promote development in children, both physical and mental. Otherwise, children can end up with long-term consequences for things they didn’t do to themselves.

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