February 05, 2007

The Neuropsychology of the Playground (How Parenting Styles Impact Child Brain Development)

Following is an interview with Daniel Siegel, the UCLA psychiatrist who is a leading researcher in the area of child development. In the interview they discuss how parenting styles impact brain development in children and can impact the mental health (positive and negative) of the child. While the interview is a few years old, the points he discusses have been further validated by research since that time.

We encourage all people who have young children to read the interview (and Dr. Siegel's book "Parenting from the Inside Out"). The interview notes:

Harvard-trained psychiatrist Dan Siegel and his colleagues are inventing a new field of scientific inquiry, one that can teach us how to be better parents. The field, known as interpersonal neuropsychology, is based on the idea that interpersonal relationships and communication have a direct impact upon brain development, brain functioning and human behavior. Siegel and his colleagues say that understanding how the brain works can help people improve their relationships, child rearing and emotional life.

...In your book, you suggest that something as physically insubstantial as a mother's smile or a father's tone of voice, i.e., interpersonal communication, can affect the physical development of a child's brain, and have a lifelong impact on his or her ability to relate. I find that mind-blowing.

Dr. Siegel: It is mind-blowing, literally. It's "contingent communication," and what's important about contingent communication is that it isn't just the sharing of positive, joyful emotions. Even more important than that is the contingency of those responses. Smiles can change the brain, but the smiles have to be also a part of this attuned connection.

Read the full interview: The neuropsychology of the playground (Salon.com)

A 28-page academic paper that covers some of Dr. Siegel's work (and which is reasonably understandable for non-psychiatrists) is: Toward an Interpersonal Neurobiology of the Developing Mind. (PDF) Infant Mental Health Journal, 2001.

In unrelated research that further demonstrates how human emotions and interpersonal connections can impact the brain and rate of brain disorders - a new research study came out today that suggests that loneliness can increase the risk of Alzheimer's by 100%. Read the story here: Loneliness link with Alzheimer's (BBC)

Related Reading:

Dr. Daniel Siegel: How [interpersonal] attachment helps children thrive

Is It Psychological Or Biological?

Dr. Daniel Siegel's Web Site - a good source of more information on Dr. Siegel's research.

Interview with Daniel Siegel, MD by Cynthia Levin, Psy.D.

The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience - Book Review

Trauma, Brain and Relationship: Helping Children Heal

Social Intelligence More Useful Than IQ? Important for Mental Health

A Positive Relationship With Both Parents During Childhood May Protect Against Schizophrenia in Adulthood

Improving Baby Mental Health - New Program for Parents

Preventing Schizophrenia - Good Child Development and Parenting Books

How to Read a Face - The emerging field of social neuroscience is based on the idea that human brains are 'wired to connect.'

Schizophrenia and Social Cognition / Emotional Intelligence


There is more to the brain development and mother-child interactions. This interview would be thrown out in a court of law as pure opinion, rather than anything scientific. See:

"Maternal bonding behaviour in schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, considering premorbid personality traits." Willinger, U. et al. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2002. 36(5):663-668.

OBJECTIVE: Bonding between mother and child is described as a complex two-way process ensuring the needs of the child for nurture and protection. As such, it is dependent on the contribution of mother and child [1-3] whereby characteristics of personality of the child may
have consequences on maternal bonding behaviour....

CONCLUSION: The results suggest that premorbid personality traits should be considered not
only in analyses of maternal care behaviour in schizophrenic and schizoaffective patients but also when studying other psychiatric patient groups.

and also:

"Behaviors of Children With Failure to Thrive Affect Parent-Child Interactions" WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) Sept 26, 2000 - The maladaptive interactions seen between mothers and children with failure to thrive are affected by the child's behaviors and are not solely due to the mother's interaction skills, according to Ohio researchers.

Posted by: Philip at February 7, 2007 02:17 PM

Mental illness studies of childhood factors in journals generally exclude schizophrenia.

Posted by: Dr.Vic at February 7, 2007 03:24 PM

Hi Philip,

I think your point about there being a "two-way process" in terms of the issues with the child/mother bonding process is extremely true and important.

Thats an additional point than what was really covered in the blog news item - but valuable.

Another important point to take into consideration is that the Parent "should" be able to recognize when certain responses of theirs to a child's personality characteristics or behavior - and try to get assistance from someone when there are "personality clashes".

I was talking with some schizophrenia researchers recently and they mentioned a personal friend who had her PHD in psychiatry but who also had bipolar disorder. The woman recognized that some of her child's behavior provoked responses in her that would be negative for the child - so in situations like that she realized that and she invited a friend who did not have bipolar to come to the house (after previously arranging with this friend) - so that the potential conflicts between the child and mother were minimized. This seemed like a very well-thought out strategy - and would probably benefit a lot of people (if they have such a friend, or family member who can deal calmly in situations like this).

Posted by: szadmin at February 13, 2007 04:37 PM

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