Know how parents protect children from stress

Washington: According to a recent research, a strong parental relationship can override the effects of a traumatic childhood and therefore reduce stress.

By changing how children perceive the environmental cues, parents can help their them to distinguish between what’s safe or dangerous.

Researchers from the Emory School of Medicine studied the impact of the caregiver relationship, by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to observe activity in the amygdala, a key area of the brain that processes fear and emotion.

The researchers showed children aged 8-13 a series of photos of adult faces that were either neutral or expressing fear. The amygdalae of children who had experienced violence in their lives grew more active in response to both types of faces, which suggested that these children may engage emotional responses even for social cues that are not particularly threatening. In children who hadn’t experienced violence, amygdalae were more only active in response to the fearful faces.

In another part of the study, the researchers had children and their mothers collaborate on a challenging Etch-a-Sketch task and rated the mothers’ expressions during the interaction. Then they had the children look at photos of faces. When the mothers had been more positive towards their children, the amygdalae of the younger children, aged 8-10, showed a decrease over time in response to the fearful faces. This suggested that in young children, the relationship with a mother affects the brain’s response to potential environmental threats. The same effect wasn’t observed in older children.