January 7, 2013: Brain and emotional development in children is being negatively affected by "social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life," claims Darcia Narvaez, at left, a Univ. of Notre Dame professor of psychology (and blogger on Psychology Today) who specialized in moral development in children and how early life experiences influence brain development.
In material presented at the UND Center for Children & Families Symposium in October -- and just released to the public -- Narvaez, who holds a Masters in Divinity degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, in addition to a Ph.D. in educational psychology, specifically criticized "...the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms [and] the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will 'spoil' it..."
"Breast-feeding infants, responsiveness to crying, almost constant touch and having multiple adult caregivers are some of the nurturing ancestral parenting practices that are shown to positively impact the developing brain, which not only shapes personality, but also helps physical health and moral development," says Narvaez.
Studies show that responding to a baby's needs (not letting a baby "cry it out") has been shown to influence the development of conscience; positive touch affects stress reactivity, impulse control and empathy; free play in nature influences social capacities and aggression; and a set of supportive caregivers (beyond the mother alone) predicts IQ and ego resilience as well as empathy.
The United States has been on a downward trajectory on all of these care characteristics, according to Narvaez. Instead of being held, infants spend much more time in carriers, car seats and strollers than they did in the past. Only about 15 percent of mothers are breast-feeding at all by 12 months, extended families are broken up and free play allowed by parents has decreased dramatically since 1970.