Good Parenting Ups Kids' Mental Skills
Study Shows Better Parenting Skills Sharpen Minds of Kids in Poverty
WebMD News Archive
Poverty and Brain Development continued...
There are three kinds of stress, Shonkoff says: good stress, which keeps
life interesting, "tolerable" stress, which can be very upsetting but
which doesn't cause lasting damage, and "toxic" stress. The difference
between toxic and tolerable depends on how long the stress lasts and whether or
not a person has good social support.
Conditions that produce toxic stress are most common in poverty -- chronic
fear and instability together with too little trust in other people -- but it
can exist in all income brackets.
The systems in a child's forming brain most vulnerable to toxic stress are
those involved with language and attention. These things are not hard-wired by
genes. A child develops verbal abilities and concentration in early childhood,
and this development is highly influenced by the child's experiences. Bad
experiences harm development, but by the same token, "it has potential to
be enhanced," Stevens says.
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD, co-director of the Institute for Child and Family
Policy at Columbia University in New York City, says the most helpful ways to
even the odds for poor kids are preschool education and efforts to improve
parenting practices. She says the policy institute she leads has "very
specific recommendations on parenting practices," which agree with what the
Oregon researchers taught.
Shonkoff argues that the importance of programs to aid poor children and
their parents can't be underestimated because the effects last a lifetime.
"The earlier we intervene, the better," Shonkoff says.
"We don't have a simple recipe" for good parenting, Stevens says,
but the methods parents learned in the study were well founded in scientific
research, and families benefited not long after beginning to try them.