Why Safe and Nurturing Environments Matter for your Child’s Growth

child walking with parents holding hands
Photo by James X on Unsplash

Parenting is one of the most rewarding life experiences we can have. Ensuring that we create safe and nurturing environments for our children is the best thing we can do to encourage healthy growth and development.

How does brain development occur in our children when they are young and need us the most?

The brain size that we have as children is almost the same as the size we have as adults. However, our brain is in constant development from our childhood years and well into young adulthood. These connections in our brains (the sending and receiving of chemical and electrical signs) help us do pretty much everything in our lives from moving, talking, thinking, and interpreting the world around us. 

Different areas of the brain are responsible for different abilities. The cerebellum is responsible for movement, the left frontal lobe manages communication, and the amygdala is the major processing center of our emotions. Each part of the brain develop at different rates. Our brain (and our children’s) develops by building upon the connections already made which later enables us to accomplish high-level, complex tasks such as achieving long-term goals, problem-solving, and expressing complex and deep emotions.

How do adverse conditions at home impact a child’s development?

The moment we are born, our brains are ready to learn and begin developing connections. The brain builds upon knowledge through daily experiences and interactions. These experiences and interactions will impact how the brain processes the world around us for better or for worse.

Children who grow up in adverse conditions with neglect, violence, abuse, or other stressful situations in the home are more at risk for anxiety and depression later in life. Research shows that children who have experienced severe abuse have smaller prefrontal cortexes and amygdala which two areas of the brain that regulate our emotions. This leads to higher risks of anxiety and depression later in life. 

A young child’s daily experiences will determine which areas of the brain develop properly. Since children spend a lion share of their time with their parents, the amount and quality of care and loving interaction they receive has a huge impact on brain development. 

What does research say about parenting and a child’s growth?

Even infants are able to recognize when their needs for love, care, and attention are not being met. In the “Still Face Experiment” conducted by Edward Tronick and team in 1975, mothers were instructed to appear expressionless and unresponsive for 3 minutes even when their babies coo, smile, and serve up invitations for attention. The team would find that the infants would eventually decrease smiling and grow wary. They would pull back physically and emotionally from their mothers by averting their gaze, screaming, and crying.

It is so important for parents and caregivers to gently talk, sing, read, play, and interact with their young children from the day they are born while providing safe and nurturing environments for their brains to develop as they should.

How can we create safe and nurturing environments for our children?

As our children’s brains are still developing and their childhood experiences will reverberate in their futures, it is important to help our children feel physically, socially, and emotionally secure. There are many ways to help your child feel happy and secure at home and outside. Here are some things to remember: 

Provide consistency and structure:

Children feel safe and behave better when their parents provide consistency and structure. Consistency is when a parent will follow through and do as we say we will. It means resisting giving our kids whatever they want if they have behaved poorly or broken the rules. Children also thrive with structure. By providing consistent mealtimes, bedtimes, and being there to pick them up for school will help children thrive.

Read to your child:

Reading out loud to your child has two incredibly positive benefits. First, it is a cozy time together to help your child feel connected to you. It is a time for you both to relax and wind down before your child goes to sleep. Second, it exposes your child to new words and emotions at a crucial time when their language and emotional capabilities are still developing. Hearing stories about their beloved characters overcoming challenges or feel big emotions like sadness and anger can help your child to understand it is okay to have such feelings and process them in a healthy way.

Display affection:

Showing your child love, warmth, and affection is essential to the brain development of your child. It not only strengthens the connection a child feels for their parents. They also tend to have a more positive and confident outlook even after they leave the nest.

Countless research supports this from Mary Ainsworth’s secure attachment theory findings to University of Notre Dame’s research findings that showed children who received affection from their parents were generally happier as adults with less instances of depression and anxiety. Even when we are overwhelmed with our own struggles, don’t forget to hug your children after a long day. 

Stay positive:

We all face challenges and it is understandable if you feel overwhelmed at certain points in your life. However, if you are constantly expressing a negative outlook on life, your child will see and learn from this pattern. Having a negative attitude and outlook tends to beget negativity in the future. Try to reframe your outlook so that your children can also learn to respond to challenges in a positive way.

Your children will also look to you as their rock and source of stability. Find ways to stay positive for your child by finding a trusted friend or therapist to vent your frustrations and fears. Another way is to find an activity to help release stress such as painting, exercise, or meditation.

Don’t make screaming a habit:

Majority of parents have screamed at their kids. We are all only human. Parents are getting pulled in a million different directions and then something happens that sets them over the edge. However, extensive research has shown that consistent, harsh verbal discipline does not actually teach kids to behave better. Instead it can cause them to to act out or become aggressive towards others in the future. Constantly screaming at your child will only teach them to do the same with others in the future.

When parents yell at their toddler whose brain is still developing, the child will not learn and apply what their parent is screaming about. Instead, their still-developing brain triggers biochemicals that cause the child to feel scared. Do this repeatedly and your child will no longer start to feel secure in their home environment. They will start to feel as though they are walking on eggshells around you. If you find yourself constantly yelling at your child, take a step back and find out what is triggering you. When you figure out your triggers, take steps to prevent them from happening.

This does not mean you should not discipline your child if they are crossing boundaries and breaking rules. Set rules for your children such as refraining from foul language. When rules are broken, teach your children and let them know there are consequences for their actions. However, screaming and losing control will be more detrimental than effective. Speak to them in a more serious, hushed tone about why they were wrong to do something.

Help your child realize their strengths:

When you see your child behaving well and playing nicely with others, point it out to them and compliment them. When your child does something smart or responsible such as remembering to wear a bike helmet praise them for a job well done. Praise and compliments on actions that warrant them will nurture your child’s self-confidence and moral compass.

What does the Bible teach about parenting and creating safe and nurturing spaces for our children?:

The Bible is filled with pearls of wisdom and guidance as we navigate the world of parenting and actually reinforces much of what research says about parenting. Here are a few beautiful verses about parenting to keep in mind: 

Matthew 19:14: Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’

Jesus loved children more than anything in the world. There are so many versus in the Bible about Christ’s love for children. We must show our little ones love and affection as well for them to thrive and grow.  

Ephesians 6:4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

The Bible says that we must be kind to our children. We can pray to God to fill us with the Holy Spirit and His wisdom when we feel uncertain or feel like we are losing control of our temper. We can always count on Him to guide us so that we can be a good example for our children. 

Titus 2:7: In everything set them an example by doing what is good.

Children learn by observing, and their parents and primary caregivers are who they spend most of their early, formative years with. The Bible encourages us to be parents who are honest, humble, and honorable so that our children can also grow up to be honest, humble, and honorable. 

3 John 1:4: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Most importantly, the Bible teaches us to share the gospel message with our own children. It is important to teach them that God loves them even more than we do, and that His love is unwavering and unrelenting, no matter what we do. God has a special plan for them, and teaching them at an early age that God loves them, and has a plan for them, can help them navigate and stay strong in the turbulent world we live in.

Enjoyed our blogpost? Subscribe to our newsletter for more resources on mental health and integrating the Gospel message in your healing journey. 

If you found our resources useful, please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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