Caveman parenting and adult health

AparentingbookAffection, touch, play—did you have them in  childhood? As an adult, your health and social skills may depend on them.

A paper in press suggests that so-called “caveman” parenting (aka primal or evolved parenting) is related to adult health, wellbeing, sociality and morality.

In a class that just finished, students read The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland which explained

the neurobiological underpinnings of early parenting that fosters or impedes health and wellbeing. Here are some of their summaries.

“As babies, humans are led primarily by their instincts for survival which can be referred to as the “reptilian brain” (The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland, 2006, p. 18). Essentially, children are born very sensitive to their needs and need someone to help take care of the needs. Children are born not only with instinctual physiological needs, but they are born with certain social needs (Narváez, 2014, p. 24-28). When these needs for belonging, bonding, shaping of emotions, and companionship are not met, then the child will develop a stress-oriented reaction system fueled at a biological level by hormones like cortisol (Narváez, 2014, p. 132 & Sunderland, 2006, p. 42). The child will begin to see the world as more threatening and will engage in safety ethic [self-protection]. If the child keeps living in stress and dissatisfaction, these negative neural pathways will solidify and the child may be more oriented toward safety ethic for the rest of his or her life. Once a habit to be very reactive develops, it is hard to break.”— Michael Langer, undergraduate

The Science of Parenting describes the power of parenting as being able to “affect the chemistry in a child’s brain to such an extent that, for the most part, her stream of inner thoughts will be self-encouraging rather than fraught with self-criticism” (Sunderland, 2006). It also describes how parenting can affect a child’s ability to live life to the fullest, develop strong will, create enduring friendships, and establish stress-regulating systems in the brain.

“Sunderland refers to an infant as an “external fetus”; due to the baby’s prematurity after birth, she cannot handle the many intense emotions she feels in her mammalian brain. These emotions must be controlled by the “rational” parts of the brain, which children do not develop until they are much older.

“It is crucial that parents provide the attention and affection that their child needs in order to help the infant cope with these emotions. If a parent is neglectful and non-attentive, serious consequences may ensue. When infants do not receive proper support, they are unable to develop certain pathways that allow them to manage stress and adversity later in life. Brain scans show that adults who did not receive ample support and nurturing do not have strong regulation in their higher brain systems in regards to emotional management – they even lack self-awareness (Sunderland, 2006). Brain chemistry is strongly affected by parenting: when they receive positive responses and affection, children release oxytocin and opioids, which decrease cortisol stress levels within the brain.” — Rachel Thompson, undergraduate

 

“The book outlines how we can raise happy, emotionally balanced children with an emphasis on brain development and emotional regulation. If we do not tend to the needs of our children, they will learn that the world is a cold place that does not meet their needs. For example, if a child is left crying too often, the stress response in his or her brain will become oversensitive. High levels of stress hormones fill the brain and opioids are absent, leaving the child in pain (Sunderland, 2006. 38). Parents must tend to their children, for just holding a child will help them to sync with the parent’s autonomic nervous system. Constant hyperarousal can manifest in physical symptoms such as asthma, heart disease, digestive disorders, anxiety, depression, fatigue and many other problems (2006. 45). One’s physical health is better when there is no conflict or toxic stress.” — Angela Reilly, undergraduate

 

We are starting to put the pieces together between early experience and adult wellbeing. Let’s support parents in giving babies what they evolved to need—affection, synchrony and companionship.

REFERENCES

Narvaez, D., (2014.) Neurobiology and the development of human morality: Evolution, culture, and wisdom. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Narvaez, D., Gleason, T., Wang, L., Brooks, J., Lefever, J., Cheng, A., & Centers for the Prevention of Child Neglect (2013). The Evolved Development Niche: Longitudinal effects of caregiving practices on early childhood psychosocial development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28 (4), 759–773. Doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2013.07.003

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/documents/EARCHI_658proofDN.pdf

Narvaez, D., Wang, L., Gleason, T., Cheng, A., Lefever, J., & Deng, L.  (2013). The Evolved Developmental Niche and sociomoral outcomes in Chinese three-year-olds. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 10(2), 106-127.

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/documents/NarvaezChina2013EJDP_001.pdf

Narvaez, D., Wang, L, & Cheng, A. (in press). Evolved Developmental Niche History: Relation to adult psychopathology and morality. Applied Developmental Science. 10.1080/10888691.2015.1128835

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/documents/NarvaezetalEDNHJADSfinalsubmission.pdf

Sunderland, M. (2006). The Science of Parenting. New York, NY: DK Publishing Inc.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Science-Parenting-Margot-Sunderland/dp/075663993X

NOTE on BASIC ASSUMPTIONS:

WHEN I WRITE ABOUT HUMAN NATURE, I use the 99% of human genus history as a baseline. That is the context of small-band hunter-gatherers. These are “immediate-return” societies with few possessions who migrate and forage. They have no hierarchy or coercion and value generosity and sharing. They exhibit both high autonomy and high commitment to the group. They have high social wellbeing. See comparison between dominant Western culture and this evolved heritage in my article (you can download from my website):

Narvaez, D. (2013). The 99 Percent—Development and socialization within an evolutionary context: Growing up to become “A good and useful human being.” In D. Fry (Ed.), War, Peace and Human Nature: The convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views (pp. 643-672). New York: Oxford University Press.

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/documents/17_Fry_Ch17dpf-edited.pdf

WHEN I WRITE ABOUT PARENTING, I assume the importance of the evolved developmental niche (EDN) for raising human infants (which initially arose over 30 million years ago with the emergence of the social mammals and has been slightly altered among human groups based on anthropological research).

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/EDST.htm

The EDN is the baseline I use for determining what fosters optimal human health, wellbeing and compassionate morality. The niche includes at least the following: infant-initiated breastfeeding for several years, nearly constant touch early, responsiveness to needs so the young child does not get distressed, playful companionship with multi-aged playmates, multiple adult caregivers, positive social support, and soothing perinatal experiences.

All EDN characteristics are linked to health in mammalian and human studies (for reviews, see Narvaez, Panksepp, Schore & Gleason, 2013; Narvaez, Valentino, Fuentes, McKenna & Gray, 2014; Narvaez, 2014) Thus, shifts away from the EDN baseline are risky and must be supported with longitudinal data looking at wellbeing in children and adults. My comments and posts stem from these basic assumptions.

My research laboratory has documented the importance of the EDN for child wellbeing and moral development with more papers in the works see (my Website to download papers):http://www.nd.edu/~dnarvaez

Narvaez, D., Gleason, T., Wang, L., Brooks, J., Lefever, J., Cheng, A., & Centers for the Prevention of Child Neglect (2013). The Evolved Development Niche: Longitudinal Effects of Caregiving Practices on Early Childhood Psychosocial Development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28 (4), 759–773. Doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2013.07.003

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/documents/EARCHI_658proofDN.pdf

 

Narvaez, D., Wang, L., Gleason, T., Cheng, A., Lefever, J., & Deng, L.  (2013). The Evolved Developmental Niche and sociomoral outcomes in Chinese three-year-olds. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 10(2), 106-127.

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/documents/NarvaezChina2013EJDP_001.pdf

Narvaez, D., Wang, L, & Cheng, A. (in press). Evolved Developmental Niche History: Relation to adult psychopathology and morality. Applied Developmental Science. 10.1080/10888691.2015.1128835

http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/documents/NarvaezetalEDNHJADSfinalsubmission.pdf

Also see these books for selected reviews:

Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development (Oxford University Press)

http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Psychology/Developmental/?view=usa&sf=toc&ci=9780199755059

Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution (Oxford University Press)

Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality (W.W. Norton)

 

 

 

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Caveman parenting and adult health, by Darcia Narvaez, from acestoohigh.com | Star Foundation Blog

  2. Yes, thanks. I will change that in the original. The nuances were left out. It should say extensive distress. But it does matter what the age of the baby is. The younger the baby, the more important to keep the baby calm because of its influence on developing neurobiological systems. In our studied ancestral conditions (small band hunter gatherers–humanity’s 99%) distress is calmed right away by adults in pre-toddlers but after 18 months or two years, community adults start to let the child solve some of the challenges they have.

    Like

  3. I read this with great interest and enthusiasm.

    “The niche includes at least the following: infant-initiated breastfeeding for several years, nearly constant touch early, responsiveness to needs so the young child does not get distressed, playful companionship with multi-aged playmates, multiple adult caregivers, positive social support, and soothing perinatal experiences.”

    One point of caution/clarification: Hopefully you mean ‘distressed outside the optimal window of tolerance’ and not just any distress. We know from attachment studies how important an attuned parent is for the infants optimal development. However, the sentence “responsiveness to needs so that the young child does not get distressed” could be read to mean any distress is bad for the developing infant. I think we know that even the most attuned ‘good enough’ parent is in a relational dance with the infant where we see about a 70/30 ratio in terms of reading the infants non verbal cues and meeting them accurately. There is always moments of misattunement and distress between parent and infant, usually leading to repair. This is the dance. These brief moments of distress leading to repair are also necessary for optimal brain development, including the infants experience of its own protest behavior leading to response and repair, along with later opportunities to begin to learn to self-sooth, and experientially laying the groundwork for further developmental milestones including developing the felt sense of self as separate from ‘other’. I assume you would agree, and when you write that the parent needs to be responsive to the infants needs so that the young child is not distressed, you mean so that the young child does not experience distress that is outside the window of tolerance for a developing infant. eg., Distress should never go on too long or too intensely as that certainly pushes the infant outside the window of tolerance, and it is this kind of distress that has the potential for dire developmental consequences. I would not want to suggest or hint to parents that their infant should never exhibit distress. The hovering, preoccupied-anxious parent intent on preventing their infant from ever expressing a moment of distress and becoming anxious when they do, has its own potential for negative developmental impact on the developing infant.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: