Children who were nurtured by their mothers during the early preschool years rather than later, have been found to be more responsive to learning, encompass greater memory power and can deal with stress better, says a new study.
The research by the Washington University School of Medicine has found that children with nurturing mothers, have hippocampi that are proportionately more voluminous as compared to those with moms who are less supportive during the child's tender preschool years.
This portion of the brain's temporal lobe is responsible for learning, memory and emotions. The increase in the volume of the hippocampus was observed during the transitional phase from school-going age to adolescence.
However, it was observed that adolescents, whose mothers were less supportive during their preschool years, have a smaller hippocampus region. The same goes in adolescents with mothers who became more supportive and nurturing at a later time. Thus, early preschool years are very critical, the study implies.
"The parent-child relationship during the preschool period is vital, even more important than when the child gets older," said author Joan Luby, M.D., a WU child psychiatrist at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
"We think that's due to greater plasticity in the brain when kids are younger, meaning that the brain is affected more by experiences very early in life. That suggests it's vital that kids receive support and nurturing during those early years." Luby added.
For the purpose of the study, interactions between mothers and their preschool-aged children were closely monitored and subsequently scored in terms of how supportive the moms were of their children.
The observation was carried out by placing the mothers and children in a moderately stressful situation. Specifically, the mom was given a task to complete, but at the same time the child was given an interesting task that tests their patience and limits.
How the mother handled the situation was videotaped, observed and scored, based on a nurturing scale.
Moms who were able to handle the stress and complete the assigned task, while still being able to give the necessary attention to their children scored better. Whereas, those who succumbed to the pressure and didn't treat their children in a nurturing way, weren't rated so well on the scale.
The created situation for the experiment was done so in a bid to replicate the daily grind in most homes on a day to day basis. This kind of predicament occurs quite often and challenges the child-rearing skills of a mother.
Further, as part of this experiment, MRI brain scans of these children were examined over periodic intervals. Three scans were primarily taken, one when the child began school, one during their adolescence and one in between.
The scans revealed that children whose mothers were more supportive than the average on the nurturing scale, exhibited hippocampal regions that were more than twice the volume, as compared to children whose mothers didn't fare so well on the nurturing scale.
The findings of the study bring to light the possibility of a child faring better in school and developing emotional intelligence and maturity by simply educating and encouraging parents about the importance of being more nurturing and supportive during their child's early years.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 25.
Photo: Mindy Gerecke | Flickr