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A Simple Act Of Kindness

A Simple Act Of Kindness

When a mother rat abandons her offspring, what happens to her pups? Without an attentive mother nearby, an immature rodent experiences an increase in their glucocorticoid (cortisol) levels during stress. They also experience impaired recovery after stress. Maternal rat abandonment also leads to impaired learning and memory in her pup.

What happens if the rat's mother is around, but she is inattentive; she grooms her baby rat infrequently. The ill nurtured pup develops elevated glucocorticoid levels just like the abandoned pup.

Human are not rats, although we tend to label some people with despicable behavior, Rats. Do these observations apply to us? Childhood stress could lead to adult illnesses and diseases similar to those that we see in stressed infant rats. Children who have been adopted from Romanian orphanages have higher resting glucocorticoid levels when compared to other children adopted from other Government run orphanages. Romanian orphanages are known for being harsh environments with enormous sensory, intellectual and emotional deprivation associated with their child rearing practices.

Abused children have elevated glucocorticoid levels as well as decreased size and activity in their frontal and pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that is responsible for executive decision making. If a child is constantly running from a grizzly bear during their upbringing, there is no time to grow. Some children experience a lot of chaos in their young lives. Some live in families that move every year or two due to their one or both of their parents being transferred in their jobs. Others are members of a family in which their parents are going through an acrimonious divorce. Neither of these two situations will stunt a child's growth. But if a child is in an environment where they are constantly terrorized by a parent who is profusely psychologically disturbed, they will become seriously ill. Periodically we hears news stories of children chained to a small bed in a dark room, fed with food slipped under the room door and periodically beaten for screaming in the dark. These are severe conditions that stunt growth. But if these children are rescued before puberty, to some degree they can catch-up in height if they are placed in a nurturing environment. If not, they will become a stress dwarf.

An interesting example of psychogenic dwarfism comes to mind. In a upper class Victorian family, a thirteen year-old boy dies in an accident. His mother is overcome with profound heartache. She takes to her bed and remains bedridden, suffering from the psychological trauma of losing her favorite child. However, she has a six year-old son. On occasion, her surviving son visits his mother's bed room. His mother often mistakes him for her lost son David. When she realizes her mistake, she remarks to her living child, " It's only you." He is deprived of maternal nurturing of any kind, he becomes sad and disheartened. His father was of little help. The boy decides that if he could remain a boy throughout his life, he might win the favor and love of his mother who was suffering from complicated grief.

As the boy matures, he doesn't develop any secondary sex characteristics. He grows to a height of four feet eleven inches. When he marries, he does not consummate the marriage. This boy becomes the author of the much beloved classic children's story - Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie's story is filled with children that never grow up. When these forever - children die, their ghosts come back to visit their mother.

What about premature infants who are being cared for in a sterile, harsh neonatal intensive care unit? A study done at the University of Miami School of Medicine showed that if someone touched the infants for fifteen minutes three times a day, the babies grew nearly fifty percent faster, were more active and alert, matured faster behaviorally and were released from the hospital a week earlier than those infants who were in the control group getting the usual protocolized neonatal intensive care. Touch is essential in rearing an infant.

There are many studies on the post-natal effects of stress on childhood development and long term consequences related to parent behavior. I believe that every little parent
faux pas does not leave an indelible scar on a child's psychological or physiological development. However, extreme conditions are bound to produce profound disturbances in childhood development. Even the subgroup of small normal weight babies predicts adult glucocorticoid levels and the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Many authors write books about child rearing. They cite their opinions about best practices according to their worldview of what it takes to rear a self confident, self reliant, independent and productive child. I have read many of them trying to find the answer to effective parenting. I came to the conclusion that there is no perfect natural parenting program. Parents rear their children so that they grow into adults who behave in a way that is valued by society in general. But most of all, they rear their children in a way that the parent personally values most.

The idea that the failures of our children are mere reflections of our lack of appropriate parenting is not remotely true. On the other hand, a smile and a hug is many times the best remedy for healing instead of the use of the newest medical technology, artificial organs, pacemakers, surgical procedures and complex pharmacological interventions.

A simple nurturing act of kindness can have a deep impact in a child's life.

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 8:00 AM
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