A recent study provides more evidence that positive relationships in childhood may mitigate the effects of adverse experiences. The study was small, only 113 women, and it combined self-reporting with physiological measures. Nevertheless, it adds a bit more evidence to our knowledge about how to parent children with trauma histories.
The researchers were studying what they call Evolved Developmental Niche (‘EDN”), covering child rearing practices that the human race has developed over its evolutionary history. In this study, they asked the women to report on their recollections of childhood, specifically quantifying the responsiveness of their relationships along with free play, affectionate touch, family togetherness and positive climate. The study deducted points for corporal punishment and negative home climate. The researchers then assigned an EDN-history score. The researcher also asked about the history of adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and assigned that score.
The next phase measured the participants’ vagal nerve activity during various activities. The vagus nerve manages functions such as heart rate and respiration and plays a role in social functioning. The study found that women with a higher EDN-history score generally exhibited less stress (i.e., less vagal nerve activity) and were better able to adapt to challenging tasks. This effect held true regardless of the participants’ ACES scores.
This study is an interesting take on resilience and offers some guidance for people parenting children who have suffered trauma. We need to concentrate on offering a positive climate, being responsive to their concerns, and doing what we can to make them part of our families.
We also should not overlook the point that this study makes about the benefits of affectionate touch and free play. Younger children crave affectionate physical contact, and we need to be prepared to offer it whenever we can. Conversely, some children will resist getting close to us both emotionally and physically. We need to respect their boundaries and let them set the pace, but we need to be available and responsive to them.
Finally, we need to note the study’s inclusion of free play in its scoring. It may be hard for us to not supervise our children in order to keep them safe. However, numerous studies show how important it is for children to have their own space and to be free to explore the world in their own way. We need to give them that freedom whenever and however we can.
The good news here is that our children’s experiences do not define them. We can’t fix things for them, but we can try to build safe and nurturing relationships that will help them develop healthy attitudes.