Nurturing and responsive caregiving relationship

nurturing and responsive caregiving relationship

Section 1 – About the Infant Toddler Responsive Caregiver Checklist (ITRCC) Responsive care giving is rooted deeply in relationships routines is to create a nurturing, flexible, and positive environment in which children can begin to. The daily interactions between caregivers and infant/toddlers provide the nurturing, protective and stable relationships that are necessary for. Responsive caregiving is the foundation of quality infant and toddler care. Nurturing relationships, one component of responsive caregiving, creates a secure.

Even more important, however, is conflict between a young child and a parent because of the significance of their attachment relationship and the adult's capacity to guide the child in learning how to manage disagreement and defiance. Young children's conflicts with caregivers who are skilled at helping them learn to manage experiences of disagreement and defiance early in life can provide a foundation for the growth of empathy and prosocial motivation, as well as the development of skills for negotiating and successfully resolving conflicts with others Eisenberg and Murphy, ; Goodnow, In this light, how young children experience conflict with their caregivers provides a forum for learning how to address conflict in their encounters with others throughout life.

Conflicts and the negotiations they entail also provide essential practice as children learn acceptable ways to elicit help and to be assertive about their own needs and interests. They also provide opportunities for parents to learn how best to issue directives and make requests of their child. Little is currently known with assurance about how these experiences become catalysts for the growth of prosocial behavior and the rudiments of conscience, or the development of dysfunctional social behavior.

It is clear, however, that nothing focuses a young child's attention on what others are thinking, feeling, and expecting better than the realization that conflict with that person must be resolved. Research in this area has moved away from static characterizations of parenting style e. As a result, researchers are now trying to understand how parents and others work with young children to foster capacities for safe, socially acceptable, self-regulated behavior in the context of conflict.

This, in turn, shifts attention from whether parents are doing the right things or the wrong things to limit unacceptable behaviors, to how they encourage the joint resolution of conflict and the social understanding and skills that come with it.

The focus of inquiry is thus less on the moment of conflict, anger, or frustration and more on what happens next. The phenomenon of interest then becomes the particular areas on which negotiation or divergence in values are more or less acceptable, and the particular ways in which differences are accepted, negotiated, or encouraged Goodnow, The second and third years of life appear to be pivotal for the child's emerging capacities and inclination to be cooperative and considerate toward others.

Toddlers are developing the cognitive skills to understand parental standards and apply them to their own behavior and achieving capacities for self-regulation that enable them increasingly to comply with internalized standards of conduct Kopp,; Kopp and Wyer, They are also becoming increasingly aware of the feelings and perspectives of others, which provides a resource for empathic responding to another in distress Zahn-Waxler and Radke-Yarrow, ; Zahn-Waxler et al.

At the same time, the parent-child relationship is changing, as the child's growing assertiveness and the parents' growing use of prohibitions and sanctions lead to what can sometimes seem like endless conflicts of will Biringen et al. Parents now use emotional signals to convey approval or disapproval, sometimes before the obviously contemplated act of misbehavior even occurs Emde and Buchsbaum, ; Emde et al. All young children internalize messages from these interactions; what is of interest is what they internalize.

The strategies used by parents to elicit cooperation also change to build on the child's maturing capacities for self-regulation. Specifically, they begin to rely more on explanations, bargaining, indirect guidance, and other nonassertive strategies Belsky et al. At the same time, however, children are also asserting their own independent judgment, making the preschool years ones of greater cooperation and greater conflict between parents and their offspring Kuczynski and Kochanska, ; Kuczynski et al.

Young children tend to comply more with behavioral standards as they reach the preschool years, but they also show a greater tendency to refuse before they comply and to negotiate, compromise, and display other indicators of self-assertion Gralinski and Kopp, ; Vaughn et al. Complicating this process is the fact that young children want to feel that they are in control of their lives.

Long before babies understand that they are the ones making things happen, the controllability and predictability of stimulation affects their attention, emotions, and behavioral reactions Sullivan et al. In studying face-to-face interactions between young infants and their caregivers, for example, researchers have noted that after a period of back and forth smiles and vocalization that often build in intensity, babies will look away.

Skilled caregivers react by remaining quiet for a moment. The baby then looks back and the two begin to interact again.

Unskilled caregivers or ones who are depressed sometimes ignore the cue or try even harder to get the baby's attention when he looks away. This often makes the baby fussy and irritable and increases the time he looks away. Overall, in pairs in which the baby controls the action by looking toward and awaythe caregiver keeps the infant's attention longer and elicits more smiles, coos, and active infant participation. Social interaction with a baby, however, is somewhat of a one-way street.

Let the adult be the one to turn away and ignore the baby e. By 1 year of age, being able to control the action can actually alleviate fearful responses to potentially frightening events.

nurturing and responsive caregiving relationship

In one study discussed earlier Gunnar,month-olds were presented with a toy monkey that clangs symbols and flashes its eyes and can be quite frightening to children this young. The infants who were able to turn the toy on for a few seconds at a time did so repeatedly and often smiled and laughed. In contrast, the children who could not control its actions were often upset, cried, and tried to get away from it. For older children, issues of control have been studied in the context of more subtle situations in which, for example, adults offer rewards if children engage in certain activities or are highly directive and intrusive while children are at work on a task Fagot, ; Hamilton and Gordon, ; Lepper et al.

These circumstances presumably undermine children's sense of autonomy and feelings that they are engaged in an activity because they want to do it. In fact, following these manipulations, children's levels of interest and persistence decline significantly. These situations are not unlike those in which a parent insists that a child clean up his room before he can play outside or finish her dinner before she can have dessert.

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The challenge for parents is one of encouraging cooperation while also fostering feelings of control and self-determination that lead the child to cooperate because he or she wants to.

Beginning in early childhood, as these examples illustrate, cooperation is not primarily a matter of whether parents consistently and firmly enforce their intentions on offspring, but is rather an interactional process in which a child's capacities to understand, agree with, and be motivated to comply by a positive parent-child relationship are also important Grusec and Goodnow, ; Kuczynski et al. Interactions that, at one extreme, become highly coercive and engage parents and children in escalating battles of will can contribute to the mix of factors that place children on a path toward dysfunctional social behavior Dodge, ; Patterson et al.

Alternatively, when these interactions are characterized by clear and consistently enforced limits, low levels of emotional arousal, ample affection, and a deemphasis on the use of power, threats, and criticism Campbell, ; Herrera and Dunn, ; Lepper, ; Maccoby, ; Zahn-Waxler et al.

Caregivers who are warm and provide clear expectations for child behavior that are consistently enforced also encourage early conscience development Eisenberg and Murphy, ; Kochanska, At times, this can involve directly focusing the child's attention on the consequences of misbehavior especially when those consequences involve harm to others or their responsibility for harm, explaining why certain actions are inappropriate or harmful, or drawing attention to the needs of another person whom the child can assist Hoffman,; Zahn-Waxler and Kochanska, ; Zahn-Waxler et al.

The benefits of these activities for the child are enhanced when parents themselves model morally responsible behavior and respond prosocially to others. In short, when parents are clear about their expectations e.

Early conscience also grows significantly in contexts other than direct conflict over misbehavior. When parents and offspring converse about the day's events, for example, moral lessons are often implicit in what the adult conveys and what the child learns from their conversation Dunn,; Dunn et al.

In these situations, moreover, children can reflect on what they hear—whether the conversation concerns the reasons for a sibling's outburst, the parent's response to being wronged, or a recounting of the child's own previous misbehavior—without the heightened emotion that may make it difficult for a young child to learn the same lessons in the context of a discipline encounter. Moreover, everyday family life is characterized by routines that enlist the young child's cooperation in rituals like bedtime, storyreading, waking, mealtimes, bathing, and other recurrent, predictable events Fiese et al.

The presence of these routines is one way of making expectations known and of avoiding constant confrontations. Children thus learn cooperation not only in the context of conflictual encounters and occasions for mutual give and take, but also in the predictable flow of daily life. Interactions with siblings as well as parents are also important catalysts to early moral understanding, especially in relation to disputes over rights, possessions, and territory Dunn and Munn, ; Slomkowski and Dunn, ; Tesla and Dunn, And at times, parents foster early conscience development when they devise alternative control strategies, such as avoiding a discipline encounter by proactively structuring circumstances or providing anticipatory guidance, each of which succeed in enlisting the child's cooperation in a nonconfrontational manner Belsky et al.

Although these influences have been studied almost exclusively in the context of parent-child relationships especially mother-child interactionsthere is reason to believe that they are also important in the child's relationships with other caregivers, including fathers, grandparents, child care providers, and teachers.

The ways that caregivers can best support early conscience development also depend on the young child's temperamental characteristics Kochanska, Depending on the extent to which a child is dispositionally more inhibited and fearful, for example, the parent's disciplinary efforts may either provoke cooperation or distressed withdrawal. Relatively gentle discipline characterized by suggestions and reasoning appears to be especially important for these children, for whom power assertive techniques are neither necessary nor effective.

It is important for caregivers to calibrate their response to misbehavior according to the child's personality attributes, as well as the child's tolerance for stress and capacities for understanding.

Regardless of temperament, however, developmental researchers have found that a secure, positive relationship with the parent is the best predictor of early moral growth. In a sense, a relationship of warmth and mutual responsiveness provides a context in which the parent's values and standards are most likely to be believed, accepted, and adopted by the young child Kochanska, Encouraging Exploration and Learning Our prior discussion of children's emerging capacities for communication and learning Chapter 6 documented the many ways in which parents support young children's linguistic and cognitive development.

Much of early learning, in short, requires environmental supports, and children are dependent on their parents for providing them. Starting in infancy, researchers have sought to identify the facets of parenting that are associated with higher scores on various tests of developmental status and cognitive abilities. The contingency and sensitivity with which parents respond to their baby's cues emerge consistently as important correlates of early cognitive outcomes Beckwith and Cohen, ; Beckwith and Parmelee, ; Donovan and Leavitt, ; Landry et al.

Infants whose parents can interpret, adjust their own behavior, and respond appropriately to their bids for attention, moods and states, expressions of interest, and efforts to communicate their needs are more advanced on virtually all assessments of developmental and cognitive status. Sensitive give and take between parent and infant appears to get children off to a good start on early markers of cognitive growth, just as it facilitates secure attachments.

Other aspects of parenting that have shown positive associations with these outcomes include encouragement of exploration in contrast to highly restrictive parentingprovision of a rich verbal environment, and ample amounts of nurturance and warmth Clarke-Stewart et al. These features point to parents' role in creating an environment that is playful and nurturing, is rich in conversation, strikes a balance between safety and freedom to explore, and, in general, builds a belief in the child that the world is a receptive and responsive place.

A related literature has focused more directly on the interplay between the child's emerging capacities and the parents' ability to structure learning opportunities to both bolster and challenge these capacities. Originally proposed by the Russian psychologist Vygotsky e. These kinds of processes, which have been portrayed as scaffolding Wood, ; Wood et al. Although most of the studies in this area have been concerned with cognitive development, parents have been observed to engage in the same kinds of supportive activities as they facilitate their children's entry into peer groups, with demonstrated benefits for the child's later social skills Finnie and Russell, They undoubtedly apply, as well, to other situations in which parents attempt to manage or shape children's experiences—from making play dates to arranging child care—so that they remain within the child's tolerances for stimulation and challenge, while also fostering new capabilities see, for example, Parke and Buriel, These processes have also been examined in the cross-cultural literature on the teaching and learning roles of children and parents.

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This research has directed attention to the culturally organized ways in which adults involve children in routine activities and interactions, supportively structure their activities, and gradually transfer responsibility for specific tasks as the children acquire understanding and expertise Goodnow, ; Ochs, ; Rogoff, In this sense, early learning is portrayed as a form of apprenticeship that is enacted in different ways in different cultures Rogoff et al.

For example, in some cultural communities, parents directly instruct children, play with them, and engage in conversations with them that are structured around materials and activities geared to the children's interests and abilities. In other communities, children are expected to learn through observation and participation in adult activities and through play with siblings and peers.

The cross-cultural literature has also called attention to the role that parents' expectations about the importance of various forms of achievement play in children's early learning—their familiarity with particular task strategies, their investments of effort in some tasks and not others, and their readiness to interpret various instructional or learning situations in particular ways Goodnow, There are, for example, differences across cultures e.

Subgroups within cultures—boys and girls, for example—also encounter different expectations, and children's own assessments of importance can influence what parents and others in their community view as important, as any nonsports-minded parent with a child who excels at baseball can attest.

As children reach the preschool years, researchers have turned their attention to the ways in which parents foster skills and abilities that are considered basic elements of school readiness, namely, literacy and number skills. For example, as mentioned earlier, maternal speech patterns predict vocabulary growth during the first three years of life Hart and Risley, ; Huttenlocher et al.

Parents encourage learning very explicitly through frequent visits to the library, routines that include regular reading to the child, and involvement in activities that allow children to play with notions of quantity.

These behaviors show strong associations with early literacy and numeracy skills and later academic achievement Ginsberg et al. Children generally benefit from parenting practices that expose them to high amounts of rich discourse and lots of print-related experiences Beals et al. Of particular importance for the early acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills are the language and social interactions that surround such activities as storybook reading and board games that involve number concepts Case and Griffin, ; Snow, This work on parent-child interactions per se has been extended to encompass the next broader level of influence, namely the quality and quantity of stimulation and support that the overall home environment provides to a child.

The home environment is most commonly assessed with the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment HOME Inventory Caldwell and Bradley,which assesses the materials, activities, and transactions that occur within the family setting and are supportive of early learning, defined largely in terms of IQ and traditional academic skills. Literally hundreds of studies have reported significant associations between HOME scores and children's IQ, cognitive and language development, and school performance Bradley, ; Bradley et al.

These relations hold for white, black, and Hispanic children from low and middle socioeconomic groups, although the patterns of relations may vary somewhat across ethnic groups Bradley et al. Virtually every item on the HOME inventory distinguishes poor from nonpoor families both within and across white, black, and Hispanic families. Efforts to assess the home learning environment raise the question of resources more broadly. Parents play an instrumental role in providing both social i.

Economists and sociologists, in particular, have been interested in how the resources that families provide for their children influence their life trajectories Becker and Tomes, ; Haveman and Wolfe, These family decisions are, of course, constrained by the decisions of government policy makers and employers, much more for some families than for others.

Unfortunately, with the major exceptions of research on child care and family income reviewed in the next two chaptersthe influence on early development of the investments that parents make remains unexamined.

Parenting Practices and the Transmission of Cultural Values Efforts to understand the importance of cultural practices in the rearing of young children, as described in Chapter 3emphasize the extent to which culture is both reproduced and transformed within each child Miller and Goodnow, These processes are of particular importance with respect to immigrant families Portes, ; Rumbaut, ; Waters, ; Zhou and Bankston III, There is also a growing appreciation for the ways in which children themselves are not simply passive recipients of cultural influences, but rather active agents who bring both the ability and the willingness to accept, modify, or resist those influences.

Current research on differences in childrearing beliefs and practices is directing increased attention toward the scripts that characterize the daily routines of children and their primary caregivers Farver, ; Farver and Wimbarti, ; Farver et al. These routines are imbued with expectations that are designed to establish a moral order within which the child is expected to adapt Schieffelin and Ochs, ; Shweder et al. They also create learning environments that vary dramatically across different cultural settings and groups Rogoff, In this context, parents and other important caregivers introduce children to both informal routines and formal institutions that reinforce their cultural values and goals.

When confronted by outside influences that they perceive to be undermining these efforts, caregivers can become highly threatened. Parent belief systems and modes of parent-child interaction provide some of the most important ways in which culture is embedded in the process of child rearing during the early years of life Levine, ; Super and Harkness, A wide range of cultural practices are salient in this regard, ranging from those related to sleeping, crying, and breast-feeding to those that affect the way parents talk with their children, the way emotion is acknowledged and expressed, and the way a child is expected to respond to praise for an individual achievement see Chapter 3Chapter 5Chapter 6and Chapter 7 for more detailed discussion.

Inuit children are led, through adults' repeated teasing, to learn not to display anger Briggs, Gusii mothers seldom gaze into the eyes of their infants, and their children are discouraged from looking adults in the eye which is seen as an act of disrespectyet they readily establish secure attachments Levine, The widely varying views about sleep arrangements are discussed in Chapter 5. The ways in which parents talk with children have been portrayed as one of culture's most powerful symbol systems Harwood et al.

As we discussed in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6ways of storytelling have emerged as a prime site for exploring the socialization of values Goodnow, In one study of black families, parents often recounted their everyday experiences in ways that presented themselves in a feisty light—a style that was repeated by their children in their own stories Miller and Sperry, The impact, it is argued, extends beyond the kinds of stories that are transmitted from adult to child, to the child's emerging views of the self e.

One very interesting issue that this raises is how children react when they are confronted with differing or even competing messages between parents or among the various important adults in their lives Goodnow, Individual differences in parents' previous and current interactions with the larger sociocultural context also affect how they raise their children Parke and Buriel, The socialization of ethnic minority children, for example, has been conceptualized as a highly complex process that is influenced by the socioeconomic resources i.

Extended family members, notably grandmothers, play a particularly important role in these processes, contributing, for example, material support, income, child care, and social regulation Wilson, This model highlights the need for greater attention to the efforts that parents make to help their children meet the challenges they will face as members of a minority group in a race-conscious society.

This strategy is observed commonly in the lives of many ethnic minority groups in the United States see, for example, LaFromboise et al. Most empirical data on biculturalism and on the use of alternative strategies by ethnic minority parents to facilitate their children's adaptation have been collected from adult and adolescent samples Parke and Buriel, It is therefore essential that this kind of research be conducted with samples of younger children, be extended to encompass nonminority parents, and be used to investigate distinctive strategies that are used by specific groups for raising children in an increasingly multicultural society.

An appreciation of the broad range of circumstances in which parents rear young children brings with it tremendous admiration for those who do it well. Conversely, conditions that pose significant challenges to the efforts of parents to get their children off to a good start in life warrant serious concern. We next turn to examine circumstances that seriously threaten and often undermine the parenting process.

There is an extensive literature on the effects of maternal depression, a relatively common, but potentially very serious, problem for parent-child interactions and child development. Child abuse and neglect represent a more unusual and far more extreme disruption in parenting.

The long-standing literature on orphanage-reared children can inform questions about situations that undermine the basic and powerful tendency of infants to form relationships and the young child's capacity to recover from the effects of extremely aberrant care.

These examples illustrate circumstances that place young children at risk of highly compromised development. Research on the developmental consequences of disrupted parenting is part of a broader literature on environmental influences leading to psychopathology see Rutter, in press; Rutter et al. This is an exceedingly complex literature that is fraught with challenges regarding, for example, the need to elucidate how genetic factors interact with environmental factors to affect susceptibility to risk and the need to consider how children themselves contribute to parental behavior, including behavior that poses risks to their development.

A good example of this latter point is provided by the discussion of the work by Ge and colleagues in Chapter 2which links children's inherited antisocial tendencies to more harsh parenting by their adoptive mothers and fathers. Another example of how genetic and environmental influences interact is provided by a study of Scandinavian adoptees Bohman, The children who were characterized by neither genetic indexed by criminality or alcoholism in one or both biological parents nor environmental risk indexed by the same in adoptive parents, together with serious adversities in rearing had a 3 percent rate of adult criminality, the children characterized by only one source of risk had rates of percent, and those characterized by both genetic and environmental risk had a 40 percent rate of adult criminality.

Environmental risk, in other words, led to negative outcomes primarily in the presence of genetic risk. Sorting out genetic contributions and the direction of effects in research on parent-child relationships is a daunting task. Longitudinal designs, studies of adoption, and intervention studies are among the approaches that can be enormously useful; we rely on these when we can in this discussion of disruptions in parenting and in the following section on efforts to improve parenting, but they are seldom a panacea.

Finally, this discussion focuses on the role of environmental influences deriving from parenting on individual differences among children. Equally important questions about why overall rates of particular childhood behaviors may be rising or falling e. Early Development and Maternal Depression A variety of methods have been used to assess maternal depression, ranging from self-reports to clinical diagnoses.

They typically gather information about the mother's mood as well as other symptoms of depression, such as sleep disturbances, difficulties with concentration, loss of motivation, and appetite changes Campbell et al. Approximately 1 in 10 women with young children experience depression Dickstein et al.

These high prevalence rates are cause for concern about the effects of maternal depression on young children.

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This focus for this discussion, however, is not meant to minimize the need for societal attention to other forms of mental illness that can disrupt parenting e. Compared with children of nondepressed mothers, those with depressed mothers show greater risk of developing socioemo-tional and behavior problems, which translate into difficulties in school, poor peer relationships, reduced ability for self-control, and aggression Campbell et al.

Children of depressed parents are also at heightened risk of serious psychopathology Cummings and Davies, b; Downey and Coyne, ; Zeanah et al. For example, children of clinically depressed parents are several times more likely to develop major depression then children of parents without such symptoms Downey and Coyne, Depression is not a static state. Mothers with major depressive disorders have periods when their symptoms abate, along with periods of greater suffering.

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Examining changes in child functioning in conjunction with changes in maternal functioning can help to disentangle genetic and experiential contributions to child outcomes.

Work of this sort is being conducted in some cases using physiological measures. In adults, depression is associated with changes in neural activity measured over the frontal areas of the brain that control emotion regulation Davidson,as well as with altered day-night patterns that are evident in disordered sleeping, eating, and cortisol production.

When EEG measures are taken, nondepressed adults typically show evidence of greater activity over the left compared with the right frontal region.

But negative emotions evoked using movie clips produce a shift in this asymmetry, resulting in greater right than left frontal activity Davidson et al. Depressed adults, in contrast, routinely exhibit greater right than left frontal activity, thus resembling the pattern evoked by negative emotionality in healthy adults.

Frontal asymmetry has been studied in infants and toddlers as well as adults Dawson et al. Young children, like adults, show increased activity in the right frontal region relative to the left frontal region when negative emotions are evoked Fox and Davidson, However, children of depressed mothers have been observed to display this asymmetry even when they are at rest or engaged in an activity with someone other than their mother Dawson et al.

Furthermore, the magnitude of this asymmetry was related to the timing of the mother's depression. Frontal EEG asymmetry in 3-year-olds was more highly related to maternal depression in the child's second and third years of life than to maternal depression in the child's first year of life.

Interestingly, among three-year-olds, cortisol levels in the children were more highly related to maternal depression in the children's first year than to maternal depression in the year prior to testing. Thus, the neurobiology and neuroendocrinology associated with adult depression is observed in young children of depressed mothers in ways that may be somewhat specific to when, during the young child's life, the mother and presumably the child suffered most severely from the mother's depressive disorder Dawson and Ashman, in press; Dawson et al.

This evidence has led some to suggest that infants and toddlers who are acutely dependent on their mothers, whose frontal lobes are experiencing rapid growth, and whose attachment, social-emotional, and regulatory capacities are developing, are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of maternal depression Dawson and Ashman, in press; Dawson et al. While the severity and chronicity of maternal depression are clearly predictive of disturbances in child development Campbell et al.

The neurobiological data suggest, however, that this is an area in which careful study of the timing question is warranted.

Efforts to understand the processes that underlie the developmental consequences of maternal depression have, not surprisingly, focused on mother-child interactions. Many depressed mothers show disrupted patterns of interaction with their infants. They also express self-doubts about their ability to parent well and are more likely than nondepressed mothers to perceive their children as being difficult Teti et al. Maternal depression affects both the emotional availability of the mother and the emotional tenor of her interactions with her child.

Specifically, depressed mothers are more likely either to withdraw from their children and respond with little emotion or energy, or to become intrusive and hostile toward them Frankel and Harmon, ; Tronick and Weinberg, ; Zeanah et al.

These behaviors undoubtedly contribute to the higher rates of insecure attachment, as well as the withdrawal, reduced activity, and dysphoria that are observed in infants of depressed mothers Cummings and Davies, b, ; Dawson et al. These disrupted interactions and, more generally, the adverse effects of maternal depression are not seen uniformly. Many depressed women are very good mothers who raise children who are securely attached, do well in school, and do not misbehave Cummings and Davies, b, ; Frankel and Harmon, This raises important questions about the conditions that either prevent the damaging processes from occurring or protect children from their effects.

Parenting by depressed mothers tends to be disrupted primarily when it occurs in conjunction with other sources of stress or adversity. Accordingly, a child of a depressed mother who also experiences poverty, marital discord, or maltreatment, or whose mother is also abusing substances or is an adolescent, is much more likely to exhibit some form of compromised development than is the child of a mother whose depression occurs in the context of an otherwise supportive environment Cummings and Davies, b; Seifer et al.

Unfortunately, depression often goes hand in hand with poverty, substance abuse, and other factors that place early development at risk Campbell et al. The role of marital discord and of fathers is especially noteworthy in this regard.

When maternal depression occurs in a family experiencing marital harmony, mothers are better able to sustain healthy interactions with their children and the children are less likely to display adverse consequences Cummings and Davies, ; Teti, ; Teti et al.

In fact, the occurrence of marital discord in a child's family may predict certain developmental problems more accurately than maternal depression. Relatedly, involved, psychologically healthy, and supportive fathers can buffer children from the detrimental effects of maternal depression, whereas absent or psychologically unhealthy fathers can amplify the effects Goodman and Gotlib, Beyond its direct effects on children, maternal depression can be a major barrier to the effectiveness of early interventions.

The high rates of depression among low-income mothers combined with emerging evidence that depression can be a major deterrent to enrollment and full participation in intervention programs, such as home visiting, highlights the critical importance of this relatively hidden issue for those who design, implement, and evaluate early childhood programs Teti, Maternal depression can also undermine the intended benefits of early intervention, as illustrated by the New Chance Demonstration. Mothers who participated in this comprehensive program for poorly educated teenage mothers on welfare not only felt more stressed than mothers who did not participate in the program, but the program actually had negative effects on the children of the depressed participants Quint et al.

It appears that New Chance overwhelmed the capacity of depressed mothers to cope with their situations, with detrimental consequences for their children Lennon et al. Early intervention is clearly a complex undertaking for depressed mothers who are also experiencing other sources of stress and for whom mental health services may be a more appropriate first step see Teti, Children Exposed to Abuse and Neglect Child abuse and neglect can be devastating for children's development Cicchetti and Carlson, ; Cicchetti and Toth, ; Goodman et al.

Innearly 1 million children were involved in substantiated reports to child protective services agencies National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect,and, based on reports from just 21 states National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse,over 64, children were removed from their homes and placed in alternate care. Extrapolating from data from 40 states that provided figures by age of the child, over one-third of these victims were 5 years old or younger and, of the child victims killed in77 percent were under age 3 National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, These official figures do not include community violence or the incidence of children who witness domestic violence, which also have pervasive detrimental impacts on young children Osofsky, Moreover, many children are assumed to suffer multiple forms of maltreatment Thompson and Wyatt, Child maltreatment is associated with both short- and long-term adverse consequences for children see reviews by Kolko, ; Malinosky-Rummell and Hansen, ; Pianta et al.

Physical abuse extracts a substantial toll on young children's social adjustment, as seen in elevated rates of aggression that are apparent even in toddlers George and Main, and appear to derive, in part, from biases in social information processing that lead victims of physical harm to overattribute hostile intent to others Dodge et al.

On average, children who have experienced physical abuse also have lower social competence, show less empathy for others, have difficulty recognizing others' emotions, and are more likely to be insecurely attached to their parents. Deficits have also been noted in IQ scores, language ability, and school performance, even when the effects of social class are controlled.

nurturing and responsive caregiving relationship

These adverse effects are not short-lived. Therefore, the relationships a child experiences each day and the environments in which those relationships play out are the building blocks of the brain. Simple, daily interactions have an enormous impact.

For example, a caregiver who performs routines in a gentle way and uses language to help the child anticipate what will happen next teaches the child to learn about caring relationships and supports language development. During this formative period it is critically important for caregivers to create a climate of care with healthy brain growth in mind. Simply stated, young children develop and function well when provided care in safe, interesting, and intimate settings where they establish and sustain secure and trusting relationships with knowledgeable caregivers who are responsive to their needs and interests Lally The infant brain is at once vulnerable and competent; both of these attributes need to be addressed simultaneously for healthy brain development.

The vulnerable baby is dependent on relationships with adults for physical survival, emotional security, a safe base for learning, help with self-regulation, modeling and mentoring social behavior, and information and exchanges about the workings of the world and rules for living. Yet at the same time, the baby comes into the world with great competence as a curious, motivated, self-starting learner—an imitator, interpreter, integrator, inventor, explorer, communicator, meaning seeker, and relationship builder.

Preconception and prenatal development When do caring relationships start to influence the development of the brain? Earlier than most of us think. Although this article primarily focuses on relationships established during the time period from birth to age 3, the developing brain before birth—and even before conception—deserves some attention.

Since many women become pregnant while in poor health or while engaging in unhealthy habits, the connection between preconception particularly from three months before conception to awareness of conception and healthy brain development needs to be addressed Atrash et al.

In addition to a public education campaign for all citizens about the preconception risks to the development of the brain, the United States should provide a safety net of preconception services to women of childbearing age and universal screening for depression and other mental health issues. Once conception occurs and brain development starts in the womb, the fetal environment may positively or negatively influence the developing brain.

Brain growth is more rapid during this period of life than any other, with neurons being produced at an astonishing rate. Fetuses use information—such as the kind and amount of nutrients received, the stress experienced, and the languages and voices heard—to shape their brains and bodies to anticipate experiences once born.

Just two-thirds of the way through pregnancy, a good portion of the basic wiring of the brain is already completed Thompson Birth to 9 months: Rather than passively receiving care, babies actively seek it out.

They come into the world with physical skills and social competences that prepare them to play an active role in their development. Based on the feedback babies receive from early exchanges, they direct attachment behaviors toward developing secure relationships with their primary caregivers. Research has shown that this attachment-seeking fits with the finding that during the first two years of brain development, emotional wiring is the dominant activity.

The brain builds crucial structures and pathways of emotional functioning that serve as the base for attachment, future emotional and social activity, and the language and intellectual development that will follow Schore In this earliest stage, babies start using messages from caregivers to develop perceptions of the extent to which they are loved. Infants then use these perceptions to create an initial working model for how to engage with others.

Thus, the care babies receive during these early exchanges directly affects the quality of attachment they form with their caregivers and influences the emotional stance they will take in interactions with others. Young babies need relationships with caregivers who are: Sensitive to their needs and messages Timely in responding especially to messages of distress Accurate in the reading of their cues Understanding of appropriate levels of stimulation Bornstein Seven to 18 months: Caring relationships and the brain during the exploration stage Between 7 and 18 months of age, babies are driven to search out their local environment, objects, and people; to build a primitive definition of self; and to test the strength and use of relationships.

Using their emerging motor skills to explore, they venture from the safety of the physical closeness of their caregivers and test the strength of relationships.

Although babies can say only a few words, they come to understand many more Thompson The words they hear from adults stimulate the language development pathways in the brain.

After repeated exchanges with their caregivers, infants start to build a primitive sense of self. They come to expect: Fifteen to 36 months: This stage is also characterized by an explosion of brain growth in several areas of development in addition to the emotional development that was dominant earlier. Intellectually, children hold ideas in their minds briefly, engage in pretend play, and become increasingly able to focus their attention on topics, people, and objects introduced by others. Their use of spoken language increases greatly.

They use many new words and complex sentence structures. Fortunately, this self-definition stage also brings the early emergence of executive function skills, which include the development of working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control Center on the Developing Child As children gain a clearer understanding of independent, separate interests, they realize they have choices, which is quite liberating.

However, with choices—particularly those involving caregivers and peers—comes a dawning awareness of responsibility.