Children with emotionally available parents tend to have a much stronger chance of future success even when they face other obstacles such as poor socioeconomic status, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The findings show that children who experience a healthy attachment and high-quality emotional bond with their mothers have greater cognitive development as preschoolers.
Research has shown that our children’s chances of future success are driven by a variety of factors, including those that are somewhat beyond our immediate control, such as genes and financial status. The new study, however, found that a caring and emotionally attentive parent is likely to be a solid, long-term game-changer.
For the study, the researchers examined 27 children between the ages of four and six. They looked at the quality of the children’s emotional bond to their parents, whether or not they were shy or withdrawn and also examined their cognitive control skills, such as their ability to resist temptation and remember things.
The research incorporated a variety of questionnaires, behavioral tasks, and electrophysiological measurements. The findings, according to lead author Dr. Henriette Schneider-Hassloff, “support developmental theories which propose that a high emotional quality in the mother-child interaction (attachment security) fosters the cognitive development of the child.”
Schneider-Hassloff, of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at University Hospital Ulm in Germany, looked at the quality of the emotional bond — referred to as emotional availability (EA) — between mothers and children and measured the children’s executive functions through a number of exercises.
Using EEG (electrotroencephalography), the researchers measured the neural responses of children as they were asked to complete tasks that inhibited certain aspects of their behavior. EEG is able to measure small variations in voltage in certain key parts of the brain.
Schneider-Hassloff noted, “this study investigated the association between emotional interaction quality and the electrophysiological correlates of executive functions in preschool children for the first time,” thereby shedding new light on the long-term importance of emotional nurturing.
Parents who encourage independence in their kids while remaining emotionally available thus give their young children a greater chance at future success. Even in hardships, such as financial insecurity and living in poor neighborhoods, parents can create a healthy emotional space that will have long-lasting and powerful consequences for the child’s future life-skills, the study asserts.
The researchers encourage further work into emotion-driven parenting, particularly for children at risk.