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Positive Parenting Overcomes the Effects of Poverty on Brain Development

New research shows that positive parenting can overcome the effects of poverty on healthy brain development in adolescents.  In a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Brody and colleagues described a neuroimaging study demonstrating that supportive parenting prevented the reduced growth of certain areas of the brain that occurred as a response to living in poverty.

Positive parenting and brain development

Numerous studies on the association of poverty with poor academic and psychosocial outcomes in childhood have pointed to the critical role of stress on brain development. Physical and social stress that often occurs during childhood in lower socioeconomic environments can influence the growth of the brain. In particular, there is evidence that development of the amygdala and hippocampus, brain regions that support learning, memory, mood and stress reactivity, is suppressed in disadvantaged children.

Brody et al conducted a neuroimaging study on 119 25-year-olds who had participated as adolescents in the Strong African American Families randomized trial (SAAF), a program designed to mitigate the negative effect of life stress on rural African American youths by encouraging positive parenting.  The intention of the study was to correlate the size of specific areas of the hippocampus and amygdala in these individuals, as determined by magnetic resonance imaging, with the number of years between the ages of 11 and 18 that they had lived under the federal poverty line. 

The results showed that, in the control population that had not been enrolled into the SAAF program, more time spent living in poverty was associated with smaller than average volume in areas of the amygdala and hippocampus. The good news was that this suppressive effect of poverty on brain maturation was prevented in those youths whose families had the benefit of the SAAF intervention. The promotion of positive parenting had conferred resilience to the stress of poverty. Importantly, this protective effect was detected at age 25 - it had lasted into adulthood. 

Interestingly, these positive results were achieved in a program serving the families of adolescent children. More than 95% of brain development occurs during the first six years of life, and the brain is particularly susceptible to the stress associated with poverty during this timeframe

Through the Reach Out and Read program, pediatric care providers are able to take advantage of their access to children during these early years. They encourage parents to spend time engaging with their young children through looking at books together starting in infancy,building the parent-child bonds that will alleviate the effects of adverse circumstances in the early years. 

This study encourages us that, through interventions that help parents to bring up their children in a positive, responsive way, it is possible to buffer against the consequences of poverty and low socioeconomic environments.  Leveling the playing field for disadvantaged children in this way can contribute to closing the achievement gap.

Written by Nikki Shearman at 08:32

How to Be Your Baby's First Teacher

Talk, Read and Sing to Your Baby from the Very First Day
Written by Dr. Amy Emerson, Pediatrician, Tulsa, Oklahoma at 15:05

The Importance of Encouraging Parents to Read Aloud to Their Young Children

There is a well documented and growing achievement gap between children growing up in the United States that starts in early childhood and persists through school and college into adulthood. It has become increasingly important to determine the factors that affect child development, both positively and negatively, so as to identify how we can give every child the opportunity to grow up into well-rounded adults. This is important for the future of our families, our communities and our nation.

Encouraging Parents to Read Aloud to Their Young Children

Advances in neuroscience technology over the last two decades have allowed us to chart human brain development. The evidence is still accumulating, but it is now well established that our brains develop most rapidly during the first few years of life. The brain has reached 95% of its full size by the age of six.1

Areas of the brain associated with specific skills develop sequentially - the sensory pathways develop first, followed by connections that result in language capability, followed by higher cognitive function. What is most significant is that maximal development for all functions occurs during the first five years of life.3

Child development studies have shown that the architecture of the early developing brain is influenced by a child's experience. Nurturing from a loving parent or caregiver stimulates the brain to develop the circuits that provide the foundation for emotional well-being, social competence and cognitive abilities. Conversely, adverse experiences prevent the brain from developing to its full capacity.

The best time to have an impact on children's achievement is during this critical window of early brain development, from birth through five years. And the best way of positively influencing early brain development is to strengthen the capacity of adults to nurture their children. Giving parents guidance about cuddling, talking to, and playing with their infants and toddlers will help them to support their child's development.

So, how do we reach parents of young children with this guidance?

This is where Reach Out and Read comes in! Our program is integrated into the pediatric healthcare system, so that we have repeated and unparalleled access to families with children from birth through five years at well-child checkups. Over 84% of children visit a pediatric healthcare provider during their first year.  By offering guidance about reading aloud to infants and toddlers, as a simple way of encouraging language-rich nurturing, our medical providers can help parents to give their children the best start in life.

1Lenroot, R.K. & Giedd, J.N Brain development in children and adolescents: Insights from anatomical magnetic resonance imaging. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 30 (2006) 718-729 


 

Written by Nikki Shearman at 09:04

Creating Fond Memories of Reading Together With the People Who Love Us

When we look back on our childhood, many of us have fond memories of being read to, of snuggling up and enjoying a favorite story with the people who love us. And it's not so much the story that we remember, but the feeling of love and security that it gave us. My father sat and cuddled my brother, my sister and me every evening when he came home from work. We would sit all together on the bed in our PJs, and he would read us a story, or, if we were really lucky, make up one of his own. My favorite was about a cabbage that uprooted itself and went on a journey to become king of the vegetables!

Creating Fond Memories of Reading TogetherIt turns out that what has been a time-honored tradition in so many families is actually a wonderful way of helping children to reach their full potential. We now know that when parents spend time focusing on their young children, it stimulates their brains to create connections that last a lifetime. Reading aloud gives children important early literacy skills and a love of reading. More importantly, the act of enjoying time together as a family creates the bonds that will give children a foundation for future learning and for building loving relationships.

At Reach Out and Read, we believe that all families should have the tools and information needed to make reading aloud a daily routine. There are many parents who want to do the best for their children but don't know that the simple act of reading aloud to their infants and toddlers every day can make a world of difference.

Our Reach Out and Read doctors and nurses have unparalleled access to families with young children at a time when many are not given any other formal advice about parenting. They give a new book to each child at their pediatric check-ups, and guidance about the importance of reading together.

It is a privilege to be able to help families create their own memories of reading aloud together. A Reach Out and Read doctor in Saucier, MS, told us this story:

"I know that Reach Out and Read makes a difference to my patients. When I give my patients their first book at the 6 month old well-child visit, I am often told this is the only book in the home. The simple gift of one book opens a door of possibility in the minds of the child's parents. For the first time they consider the value of books in the home life of their child. They usually come back at the next well-child visit saying they have acquired a few other books for the child that he enjoys sharing with his parents."

Written by Nikki Shearman at 09:00

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Reach Out and Read National Center
89 South St, Suite 201
Boston, MA 02111