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Preschoolers Need Support From Caregivers for Healthy Brain Development

June 2018

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — One of the most important pieces to raising healthy, well-adjusted children comes from the time parents spend with them. Now, new research shows how having nurturing, supportive parents at a very young age can have an impact on the brain.

Jennifer Campbell puts high priority on time with her children: five-year-old Amy, three-year-old Thomas, and newborn Jack.

“Nurturing them in a way that they can trust that I’m there for them when they need me is the biggest thing I can do for them for the long road,” Campbell told Ivanhoe.

Washington University School of Medicine child psychiatrist, Joan Luby, M.D., said nurturing kids at the right time has a positive impact on brain development.

“It’s as essential as your child getting vitamins and nutrients,” detailed Dr. Luby.

Dr. Luby looked at brain scans of children from preschool through early adolescence and found children who were nurtured in preschool had a significantly larger hippocampus at school age than kids with less-supportive parents.

“It really sort of shows us that there’s a key ingredient toward growing healthy children,” explained Dr. Luby.

The preschool period is a very sensitive time. Researchers say this is when a loving nurturing relationship with a child, has the most impact, even more so than later in childhood. But they add it’s never too late to start.

Dr. Luby said, “They really need the support, attention, validation, and guidance from their parents.”

Dr. Luby said: put yourself in your child’s shoes. Think about what their life is like and empathize. Ask them what they’re worried about. Ask how they feel about themselves and really listen to what they say.

Campbell sets time aside every day to do just that.

“I hope that they have that strength and self-confidence to do their own thing and find their own way,” said Campbell.

Dr. Luby said the next step is to measure how nurturing impacts brain development starting even earlier in childhood. She said it’s never too late to start nurturing your children even if those children are fully grown adults.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Stacie Overton, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Rusty Reed, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.