by Peter Prontzos
We are the most social of all animals, and our individual consciousness is primarily shaped by our society in general, and by our culture and family in particular. Children need to be seen to feel safe and to be soothed when they are distressed so that healthy attachment can develop. Children with unhealthy attachments are vulnerable to a wide assortment of dysfunctions. “The most important aspect of early attachment relationships”, psychologist Louis Cozolino notes, “is the establishment of a sense of safety.”
Healthy relationships create secure attachments between infants and caregivers, which also helps children to learn emotional self-regulation, reducing the tendency to overreact to negative situations.
Daniel Goleman describes the neuroplasticity of our brains in his book, Social Intelligence, as: “…repeated experiences sculpt the shape, size, and number of our neurons and their synaptic connections…. Our key relationships can gradually mold certain neural circuitry. This openness to our social environment means that the kind of person that we eventually become is, to a very significant extent, the result of the quality of our relationships in the early years.”
Social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life are preventing healthy brain and emotional development in children, according to Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development. She explains:“Studies show that responding to a baby’s needs (not letting a baby “cry it out”) has been shown to influence the development of conscience; positive touch affects stress reactivity, impulse control and empathy; free play in nature influences social capacities and aggression; and a set of supportive caregivers (beyond the mother alone) predicts IQ and ego resilience as well as empathy. The United States has been on a downward trajectory on all of these care characteristics….” A nourishing environment, Narvaez adds, leads to “communal imagination,” which includes love, “sympathetic action”, and “egalitarian respect” for others.