Parental affection in childhood vital to well-being as adults

Did you get to cuddle with your parents, play freely and feel supported in childhood? Childhood experiences like these appear to have a lot to do with well-being in adulthood, says a new study.

Childhood experiences that match with evolved needs lead to better outcomes in adulthood, the findings showed.

“Humans evolved with a nest of care for their young that matches up with the maturational schedule of the child. It was shaped over 30 million years ago and modified through human evolution,” said one of the researchers Darcia Narvaez, professors of psychology at University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US.

“We call it the evolved developmental niche,” Narvaez noted.

In describing this niche, Narvaez emphasised six components — soothing, naturalistic perinatal experiences; responsiveness to a baby’s needs including sensitivity to the signals of the baby before the baby cries; constant physical presence with plenty of affectionate touch; extensive breastfeeding; playful interactions with caregivers and friends; and a community of affectionate, mindful caregivers.

The researchers asked adults to reflect on their childhoods according to several components of the evolved developmental niche.

Adults who reported receiving more of such parenting practices in their childhoods displayed less depression and anxiety, greater ability to take the perspective of others and an orientation toward compassion.

Adults who reported less of these parenting practices in their childhood have poorer mental health, more distress in social situations and are less able to take another’s point of view.

“Our research shows that when we do not provide children with what they evolved to need, they turn into adults with decreased social and moral capacities,” Narvaez said.

“With toxic stress in childhood, the good stuff does not get a chance to grow and you become stress reactive,” Narvaez noted.