The quality of how physically affectionate and nurturing mothers and fathers are affects children holistically. Intense, constant and warm physical affection nurtures the parent-child attachment and ensures that it is secure. The parent-child attachment is the blueprint of a child’s entire holistic developmental make up: Physically, emotionally, cognitively, creatively, socially, sexually, spiritually and genetically. Yes, the “nature vs. nurture” debate can rest upon the neurological research that shows that nurture affects genetics more than genetics affect nurturing behaviors. In other words, we shape our children’s entire developmental make up, even their genetic expression, depending on the amount of and quality of the physical and emotional affection and nurturing that we share with them.
The University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center website has a cute and fun interactive tutorial that allows people to experience and watch how important physical affection is to the genetic expression of baby rats. The tutorial allows the user to play the part of a mother rat who must provide physical nurturing to a baby rat in the form of licking. The faster the user clicks their mouse, causing the animated mother rat to lick the baby, a graphic on the left side of a “GR gene” slowly unwinds and becomes activated. A voice-over explains that methyl molecules will keep the gene dormant unless the mother rat provides enough nurturing licking to her baby. When the mother is highly affectionate, the GR gene, which regulates stress, is activated and the baby rat is better able to calm itself during stressful events. Sadly, if the mother rat fails to provide adequate nurturing, the gene will not be activated, and the baby rat will be more reactive to stress and less able to cope with stress for the remainder of its life. Users can experiment with various levels of nurturing to see what the outcome will be. It really hits home when we learn that the baby rat’s GR gene will look the same for the rest of its life based on the amount of physical affection it received in its first week of life.
Researchers such as Ashley Montagu, James Prescott, Arthur Janov, Sue Gerhardt, John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth and many others have discovered what people in peaceful tribal cultures knew instinctively for millennia, that physical and emotional love and affection literally shape our children’s brains, hearts, minds and lives.
In our culture, it is the norm that most children have not received the intense amount of skin-to-skin physical affection and nurturing that they need. Most of us as parents, along with our own parents, grandparents and ancestors, grew up to some degree starved of the full quota of physical and bodily nurturing that we required for optimal development. Unless parents find ways to overcome this starvation in themselves, they will be unable to meet their own children’s intense needs for skin-to-skin physical affection and nurturance.
Fortunately, there is hope! A return to the natural parent-child attachment cycle by providing your child with some of what was missed is the key to repairing damage to the parent-child bond and attachment relationship. My book, Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended, supports parents in the steps to repairing the parent-child relationship. This can be done even with children with moderate or severe behavioral and emotional issues, from infants and toddlers to older teens. I am also available for supportive Parenting Coaching, to help parents through every step of the process with their child. Please contact me if you would like support in repairing the parent-child bond with your son or daughter!