The negative effects of toxic stress is real.
Studies on children's brains reveal the real impact a mother's love or lack of love has on the developing child. The article below was written by Jill Reilly
Horrifying scans that show the real impact of love: Brain of a neglected child is much smaller than that of a normal three-year-old
According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause - the way they were treated by their mothers
Both of these images are brain scans of two three-year-old children,
The brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right
You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby.
But being a nurturing mother is not just about emotional care - it pays dividends by determining the size of your child's brain, scientists say.
Both of these images are brain scans of two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.
According to neurologists, this sizeable difference has one primary cause - the way each child was treated by their mothers.
What is shocking: According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause - the way they were treated by their mothers
The child with the larger and more fully developed brain was looked after by its mother - she was constantly responsive to her baby, reported The Sunday Telegraph. But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse. According to research reported by the newspaper, the brain on the right worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.
A mother's love is fundamental to how a child's brain develops
The consequences of these deficits are pronounced - the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathise with others.
But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.
The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.
Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.
He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function. And sadly there is a chance they may never develop and come into existence.
The brain on the right is more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left
These have concerning implications for neglected children that are taken into care past the age of two. It also seems that the more severe the mother's neglect, the more pronounced the damage can be.
The images also have worrying consequences for the childhood neglect cycle - often parents who, because their parents neglected them, do not have fully developed brains, neglect their own children in a similar way.
But research in the U.S. has shown the cycle can be successfully broken if early intervention is staged and families are supported. The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.
The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.
The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, Neurosciencenews.com reports.
The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child's development.
This article was originally published: 13:16 EDT, 28 October 2012 |
What is the profile of an abuser?
[This article was written by Steve Cornell and can be found here.]
Be careful who you leave your children with. This is at least one take away from high-profile sexual abuse cases like Jerry Sandusky. Parents everywhere will think twice before entrusting their children with authority figures like coaches or priests. Parents sometimes trust these people to seek special advantages for their children, but you cannot be too careful these days.
Even before his conviction on 45 charges, including child rape, I was inclined to believe that former Penn State assistant coach Sandusky was guilty of sexually abusing young boys. As a father of three sons, all of whom were athletes at the varsity or college level, I cannot imagine what I would do if I learned that someone had abused one of them. Frankly, it scares me to think about it. Like many parents, I wonder how such abusers can be identified.
In his book, Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse, Steven R. Tracy identifies four general characteristics of abusers. If we hope to protect our children and society from abusers, we need to be aware of the traits that make up their profile.
What Parents Need to Know
Before outlining this profile, I should say that I have no interest in looking for an abuser behind every bush or being unnecessarily suspicious of those who display these characteristics. Yet I believe that parents need to know some of the warning signs in order to protect their children. And they also need to know many abusers are groomed in particular kinds of homes with certain character traits. Parents must become aware of how to raise their children to protect them from becoming abusers. They must provide the kind of healthy love and nurture to fortify their children against such evil. Parents need be able to detect early and correct the traits that lead to abusive behavior.
The application of these characteristics extends beyond sexual abuse to all forms of abuse. They are also useful for protecting people in relationships that may potentially lead to marriage. If you read what follows and believe you're with a potential abuser, seek counsel and accountability immediately. Don't downplay or ignore what you see. Save yourself and many others untold trouble by seeking help from a trusted counselor.
Four General Characteristics of Abusers
1.Pervasive denial of responsibility --- "The single most consistent characteristic of abusers is their utter unwillingness to accept full responsibility for their behavior," Tracy says. Abusers are full of excuses, rationalizations, and justifications. They play the blame game by projecting on others responsibility for their actions.
2.Bold deceitfulness--- Tracy identifies this as a "skill" abusers use to "maintain their innocence, avoid the discomfort of changing long-established patterns of behavior, escape the painful consequences of their actions, assuage their own nagging consciences." Abusers create their own self-serving reality and expect others to affirm it. They can be "masterful at manipulating words and actions to confuse, confound, and put others on the defensive."
3.Harsh judgmentalism--- To deflect attention away from themselves, abusers will often be judgmental and harsh toward others. They use this mechanism to maintain their "moral facade" and to perpetuate denial of responsibility. They replace their shame with blame to escape a guilty conscience. "This harsh judgmentalism is also a godless method for unrepentant abusers to deal with their own shame, much of which is a gracious, God-given, internal witness to their sin," Tracy notes.
Legalistic religious communities can be both breeding grounds and also havens of protection for undercover abusers. In contrast, communities with gospel clarity where people celebrate God's grace in a context of humble transparency will not be safe places for abusers.
4.Calculated intimidation --- As can already be seen, abusers' lives are "built around twisting reality" and "avoiding consequences." Intimidation is their weapon of choice for keeping people from knowing the truth. Abusers are notorious for threatening their victims into silence and submission. But they also use what might be viewed as a positive means of manipulation. Abusers often target people who are needy or come from difficult homes. They buy them gifts and shower them with affirmation as a means to control and abuse them.
It's not surprising that some abusers are drawn to religious communities with hierarchies of authority. The Catholic priests who abused young boys leveraged their authority to intimidate their victims. Power without accountability can easily lead to corruption and abuse.
Some Additional Traits
An abuser often has an inordinate need for affirmation and praise. This usually connects with deeper levels of insecurity or a history of rejection. It is often displayed in a tendency to project onto the words or actions of others motives and messages of acceptance or rejection. Abusers also typically have unhealthy attachment and detachment issues. They generally refuse to seek help and prohibit their victims from seeking help.
Deep fear of rejection makes abusers unpredictable and volatile. It's common for them to carry inner rage they periodically unleash on those close to them. Not surprisingly, abusers have difficulty admitting to failure or weakness. But, after unleashing rage on others, they can become profusely apologetic to atone for the damage they've caused and to manipulate their victims. Any repentance that does not lead to change must be seen as a means of manipulation.
Honest people will recognize that some of the characteristics of abusers can be found to certain degrees in nearly everyone. Parents must correct their children when they exhibit behaviors associated with abuse. Children learn early in life how to avoid responsibility for their actions, blame others, and manipulate those around them---even their parents. Firmly correct them if they tend to bully others to establish feelings of superiority, or if they make fun of others to feel better about themselves. Help them see through their selfish motivation and lead them to build their security in God's love displayed in Christ and exemplified through your love for them.
Because abusers prey on vulnerable people, victims often enable their abusers by making excuses for their behavior. If you're doing this, please break free from the deception and recognize that it is neither loving nor wise to allow yourself to remain in an abusive relationship. Insist on getting help whether your abuser is willing to or not.
What about the developing brain?
[The original article is found here.]
This look at the developing brain is the fourth part of a series we have titled “Concepts and Skills of Parenting.” It is adapted from the book Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust and Love. To read Part 1 — which provides a look at secure attachment at the start of life — click here. Part 2 explores the core concepts of child development. Part 3 examines the importance of trust and reciprocityin the formation of secure attachment.
Scientists have learned more about the brain in the last decade than in all of history. Advanced technology has given us amazing insights into the brain’s inner workings. The human brain is the most complex structure known: 20 billion neurons, 2 million miles of neuronal fibers, 100 billion cells, trillions of connections (Kutulak 1996).
The old concept that the brain was a self-contained, hardwired machine that was unchangeable after childhood has been thoroughly debunked. We now realize our brains continually develop new connections, and that experiences actually change our brain’s chemistry, structure and genetic expression throughout life. However, it is our experience with forming relationships in the first few years of life that are most important to shaping the brain’s development and behavior. This is because a child’s brain grows at the quickest rate during the first three years of life. It reaches 75 percent of its adult size by the third or fourth year (and it is fully developed around the age of 25).
Nature versus Nurture
There has been an ongoing debate — commonly known as “nature versus nurture” — about the influence of genetics or environment on a child’s development. We now know this is not an either-or question. Development is a result of both nature (biology and genetics) and nurture (experience and environment). Nature supplies the blueprint or potential, and nurture is the architect that determines the final result. This partnership in your genes and your environment is at the core of who you become. A child’s environment consists primarily of close emotional relationships — and these attachments are the most important social factor affecting the developing brain. The social world of the child during the first 45 months (9 months in the womb, three years after birth) actually determines how the brain and mind are formed and how well they work.
The Triune Brain
The human brain is composed of three distinct but intersecting areas — brain stem, limbic system and neocortex — a triune brain. The brain stem is the most primitive part, and it controls basic states of arousal, alertness and physiology (think heart rate, breathing, body temperature). The limbic system is the center of emotion, social behavior and attachment. It regulates emotion, memory, motivation and stress. The neocortex is in charge of complex information-processing functions, such as abstract thinking; reasoning and awareness; and the ability to observe our own thoughts, feelings and actions (MacLean 1990).
These three parts of the brain continually exchange information. Under conditions of threat and heightened emotion, the limbic system takes control it the automatic reactions of self-preservation, commonly known as “fight-flight-freeze” response. When feeling secure, safe and calm, logic and reasoning are switched on by the neo-cortex. Thus, children who feel frightened and insecure because of the absence of nurturing and protective caregivers are less apt to use logic and more likely to remain in their limbic brains — emotionally aroused, highly anxious and reacting on the basis of self-preservation. Children learn best when they feel calm, safe and nurtured. When attachment is disrupted, a child’s brain is more focused on self-preservation and survival and less on being inquisitive and learning.
The limbic system plays a pivotal role in the emergence of attachment and is most altered by the stress of compromised and insecure attachment. To better understand this, it is necessary to know the difference between a closed-loop and open-loop system. The former regulates itself with no help from the outside world. For example, our circulatory system is a closed loop; our blood continues to flow inside our body regardless of how others behave.
The human brain — especially the the emotional limbic system — is an open-loop system. It relies on attuned and caring input from attachment figures for healthy growth and functioning.
Baby’s experiences with caregivers shape brain formation and functioning
How children and caregivers interact directly affects the child’s brain formation and operation. Most affected by this relationship are parts of the brain that regulate self-control, the release of stress hormones and the way genes are expressed. It is common for children with histories of abuse and neglect to have elevated stress hormone levels and problems with self-control. They are often impulsive, inflexible and have temper tantrums. Inherited tendencies, such as mental illness, alcoholism and hyperactivity are more likely to emerge without the buffer of secure attachment.
So a child’s ability to self-regulate — which we’ll discuss in the next part of this series — is very important.
This article was written by Dr. Levy. Terry Levy also has written about the interplay among attachment, trauma and the developing brain.
[Motherhood in the Age of Fear is an article written by Kim Brooks and is found in the opinion section of the New York Times. For the original post, click here.]
CHICAGO — I was on my way home from dropping my kids off at preschool when a police officer called to ask if I was aware there was an outstanding warrant for my arrest.
“No, no,” I told him. “I didn’t know that.”
I needed to call my husband, but my fingers were shaking. I don’t remember if I was crying when he answered, only that he was saying he couldn’t understand me, that I needed to calm down, to tell him what had happened.
What happened began over a year before on a cool March day in 2011, at the end of a visit with my parents in Virginia. I needed to run an errand before our flight home to Chicago, and my son, then 4, didn’t want to get out of the car.
“Come on,” I said.
“No, no, no! I wait here.”
I took a deep breath. I knew what I was supposed to do. But I was tired. I was late. I didn’t want, at that moment, to deal with a meltdown. And there was something else: a small, quiet voice I’d been hearing more and more lately. “Why?” the voice asked.
Why did I have to fight this battle? He wasn’t asking to Rollerblade in traffic. He just wanted to sit in the car. Why couldn’t I leave him, just this once?
If it had been warm out, I would have said no. I knew about how quickly a closed car can overheat, even on a 60-degree day. But it was cool and cloudy. I’d grown up in that same town in the 1980s and had spent hours waiting in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon, windows open, reading or daydreaming, while they ran errands. Had so much really changed since then?
So I told him I’d be right back. I cracked the windows and child-locked the doors and set the alarm. When I got back five minutes later, he was still playing his game, smiling. We picked up his sister and our suitcases back at my parents’ house and caught our flight home.
It took me a while to figure out what had taken place in the parking lot — that a stranger had watched me go into the store, recorded my son, recorded the license plate on my mother’s car and called 911.
When our flight landed in Chicago, there was a message on my phone: “I’m trying to get ahold of Mrs. Kimberly A. Brooks. I need to speak with Mrs. Brooks about an incident this afternoon in a parking lot.”
Once I realized what had happened, I felt like a terrible mother. I felt as though I’d been caught doing something very bad, even if I didn’t understand what the bad thing was, exactly, or what the rationale was for its badness. I felt, I think, what just about every woman feels when someone attacks her mothering: ashamed.
But had I committed a crime? There’s no law in Virginia against letting your kid wait in a car — though, amazingly, 19 states do have statutes addressing this situation. The police seemed to think it was child abuse or neglect — that someone could have hurt or kidnapped my son while I was gone.
When I tried to explain this to my outraged father, he said: “Last I checked, kidnapping is a crime. Someone could break into my house and shoot me in the head, but the police aren’t showing up to arrest me if I forget to lock my door.”
“I don’t think they see it the same way when kids are involved,” I told him.
“The same way,” he said. “You mean rationally?”
I contacted a lawyer who said I would just have to wait to see if the police would press charges or contact the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. And so I waited, terrified, until the morning I received that second call and learned that I was being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (my son).
I spent the next months determining the best legal course of action, and also the best course of action for living with the humiliation of being accused of criminally negligent parenting. My story might have ended here. This is what shame does to women: It isolates us and makes us feel our stories aren’t really stories at all but idiosyncratic flaws. The only reason my story continued was that I started seeking out other mothers who had been through similar struggles. I found six willing to speak about their experiences, and I expect there are many more out there. I was not the only one who had paid the cost of parenting in the age of fear.
We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second.
We read, in the news or on social media, about children who have been kidnapped, raped and killed, about children forgotten for hours in broiling cars. We do not think about the statistical probabilities or compare the likelihood of such events with far more present dangers, like increasing rates of childhood diabetes or depression. Statistically speaking, according to the writer Warwick Cairns, you would have to leave a child alone in a public place for 750,000 years before he would be snatched by a stranger. Statistically speaking, a child is far more likely to be killed in a car on the way to a store than waiting in one that is parked. But we have decided such reasoning is beside the point. We have decided to do whatever we have to do to feel safe from such horrors, no matter how rare they might be.
And so now children do not walk to school or play in a park on their own. They do not wait in cars. They do not take long walks through the woods or ride bikes along paths or build secret forts while we are inside working or cooking or leading our lives.
I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.
I was beginning to understand that it didn’t matter if what I’d done was dangerous; it only mattered if other parents felt it was dangerous. When it comes to kids’ safety, feelings are facts.
As one mother put it to me, “I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.” In other words, risk assessment and moral judgment are intertwined.
This has actually been confirmed by researchers. Barbara W. Sarnecka, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and her colleagues presented subjects with vignettes in which a parent left a child unattended, and participants estimated how much danger the child was in. Sometimes the subjects were told the child was left unintentionally (for example, the parent was hit by a car). In other instances, they were told the child was left unsupervised so the parent could work, volunteer, relax or meet a lover. The researchers found that the participants’ assessment of the child’s risk of harm varied depending on how morally offensive they found the parent’s reason for leaving.
Dr. Sarnecka and her colleagues summarized the findings this way: “People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous.”
“It’s not about safety,” Dr. Sarnecka told me. “It’s about enforcing a social norm.”
No one knows this better than Debra Harrell, one of several women I spoke to about their experiences. In 2014, Ms. Harrell let her 9-year-old daughter play in a park while she went to work at a nearby McDonald’s. It was a safe neighborhood on a summer day with lots of kids. None of this mattered when another parent contacted the police. Ms. Harrell was charged with unlawful neglect of a child and her daughter was put in foster care for about two weeks.
That same year, an Arizona woman named Shanesha Taylor was chargedwith two counts of felony child abuse and sentenced to 18 years of supervised probation, all because she had no child care and had to leave her two younger children in the car while she went on a job interview.
In a country that provides no subsidized child care and no mandatory family leave, no assurance of flexibility in the workplace for parents, no universal preschool and minimal safety nets for vulnerable families, making it a crime to offer children independence in effect makes it a crime to be poor.
And yet middle-class and affluent mothers are not immune from this kind of surveillance and punishment, either. One such mother I spoke with was charged with felony child endangerment when she left her napping 4-year-old daughter in the car for a few minutes with the windows open while she ran into a store. During her arrest, she remembers the officer saying, “Stay-at-home mom’s too busy shopping to take care of her kid? Does your husband know how you take care of your child while he’s out earning the big bucks?”
We’re contemptuous of ‘lazy’ poor mothers. We’re contemptuous of ‘distracted’ working mothers. We’re contemptuous of ‘selfish’ rich mothers.
These women’s critics insist that it’s not mothers they hate; it’s just that kind of mother, the one who, because of affluence or poverty, education or ignorance, ambition or unemployment, allows her own needs to compromise (or appear to compromise) the needs of her child. We’re contemptuous of “lazy” poor mothers. We’re contemptuous of “distracted” working mothers. We’re contemptuous of “selfish” rich mothers. We’re contemptuous of mothers who have no choice but to work, but also of mothers who don’t need to work and still fail to fulfill an impossible ideal of selfless motherhood. You don’t have to look very hard to see the common denominator.
I presented this theory of mother-shaming to Julie Koehler, one of the last “bad moms” I interviewed. She had introduced herself to me over email with the subject line, “I am the horrible Starbucks mother!”
One day in 2016, Ms. Koehler let her three daughters wait in her minivan, watching “Dora the Explorer,” while she grabbed a coffee. But Ms. Koehler’s story diverges from those of the other women because she is a senior public defender, and as she cheerfully informed me, “I cross-examine cops all day long. I’m not about to be intimidated by a badge.”
The officer asked where she had been, and when she lifted her cup, he said, “So you abandoned your children?”
That’s when Ms. Koehler laughed. “It’s not against the law in Illinois to leave your children unattended. You have to prove that I’m willfully endangering their life by going into Starbucks and getting a cup of coffee where I can see them the whole time. Good luck getting that case approved by a state’s attorney.”
The officer didn’t end up pressing charges, but instead put in a call to the Department of Children and Family Services. As a result Ms. Koehler had to provide references attesting to her parenting, her children had to get physicals from a doctor, and the family was interviewed in their home, all before the case could be dismissed.
It’s not lost on Ms. Koehler that her ability to refuse to be intimidated is the result of her profession and privilege as a white, affluent mom. In her view, this makes it all the more important that mothers like her, mothers like me, stand up for our right to parent our children without public shaming, investigation or prosecution.
“If this happened to anyone of color,” she said, “they could have been shot in the street.” She continued, “But no matter what color you are, no matter how much money you do or don’t have, you don’t deserve to be harassed for making a rational parenting choice.”
When I asked what advice she would give to other women in this situation, she said: “I would tell them to ask the officer what law she was breaking. I would tell them to ask why and how going into a store for a few minutes meant she was abandoning her child. I would tell her to ask if she was under arrest, and if not, if she was free to go.
“And if it’s not a cop but a person on the street, calling them names, yelling at them that you’re a terrible mother, threatening to call the police and have their children taken away, then I’d tell them to be extremely calm and clear with that person. I’d tell them to take out their own phones and start recording the interaction. I’d tell them to say calmly and assertively: ‘I haven’t done anything wrong; I haven’t broken any law. My child is fine. I don’t know you, so please step away from us. You are harassing me, and you’re harassing my child. If you don’t stop harassing us, I’ll have to call the police.’”
A mother, apparently, cannot be harassed. A mother can only be corrected.
As I listened to her, it occurred to me that I had never used the word harassment to describe this situation. But why not? When a person intimidates, insults or demeans a woman on the street for the way she is dressed, or on social media for the way she speaks out, it’s harassment. But when a mother is intimidated, insulted or demeaned because of her parenting choices, we call it concern or, at worst, nosiness. A mother, apparently, cannot be harassed. A mother can only be corrected.
At this point you might be wondering, “What about the dads?”
Dr. Sarnecka, the cognitive scientist, has an answer to this. Her study found that subjects were far less judgmental of fathers. When participants were told a father had left his child for a few minutes to run into work, they estimated the level of risk to the child as about equal to when he left because of circumstances beyond his control.
I love the way this finding makes plain something we all know but aren’t supposed to say: A father who is distracted by his interests and obligations in the adult world is being, well, a father; a mother who does the same is failing her children.
Perhaps all this is beginning to change. In March, Utah became the first state to pass a law protecting “free-range” parents. Other states may soon follow. Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the Free-Range Kids movement, is the president of Let Grow, a nonprofit that helps parents, teachers and organizations find ways to support childhood independence and resiliency. And among mothers I know, there seems to be a slow-brewing backlash to the idea that we should let our lives be ruled by the twin fears of danger and of disapprobation.
I felt these fears every time I stood at a birthday party with 30 other parents, watching for two hours as our children played. I felt it at the park when, just at the moment I took out a book to read, my son stumbled and bumped his chin, and a woman began shouting, “Where is this child’s mother? Is this child being supervised?”
It was the everyday version of Ms. Harrell’s terrifying experience. In the video of her interrogation — aired on television news, for all to see — she cries while a male officer berates her, saying, “You understand that you’re in charge of that child’s well-being.”
As I write this, I am sitting on a bench in a residential neighborhood. It is a beautiful summer afternoon, but there are no children playing on the sidewalks. They are safe at camp, inside their houses, buckled into car seats, plugged into screens, never enjoying what the writer Mona Simpson called “the luxury of being unnoticed, of being left alone.”
Dr. Sarnecka once told me that children may not have the same rights as adults, but “they have some rights, and not just to safety. They have the right to some freedom, to some independence.” They have a right, she said, “to a little bit of danger.” And parents, I’d add, have the right to give it to them.
In the end I was lucky. The prosecutor agreed not to pursue charges in exchange for 100 hours of community service. My family and close friends stood by me. I was not placed on a registry of child neglecters. I didn’t lose my job. The truth is, I don’t feel that bad about what happened to me anymore. Instead I worry about all the ways our country seems to be at war with children, even as we insist our greatest responsibility is to protect them.