"ParentCraft" Crucial for Child's Health

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

We are now finding out that the things we hardly ever suspected to have any effect on our health, in reality do.  One such thing is the positive effect a loving and caring person has on our physical health.  We knew that one's emotional health was positively related to loving and caring parenting, but the awareness of the positive effect of nurturing on one's physical health is something new and growing.   To illustrate this point, let me tell you a rabbit story.      

 A study using rabbits at the University of Ohio shocked the researchers so much that they repeated it four times.  They thought someone on their team had goofed somewhere, so they repeated the experiment several times, but  each time they got similar results.  The study, part of a heart disease project, was designed to understand how a high fat diet contributed to the hardening of arteries.   The researchers,  genetically bred a group of rabbits to develop hardened arteries.  They then fed them a high-fat diet.   Researchers  expected the rabbits to quickly develop heart disease, but some rabbits threw a monkey wrench in the whole study.  When the rabbits were examined to see the effect of the high- fat diet on the hardened arteries, 15 % of them presented almost totally clean arteries.  This should never have happened because all of the rabbits in the research group were genetically predisposed to develop hardened arteries and ate the same high-fat diet.  

 Puzzled researchers repeated the study, but they still got the same results.  "What is going on here?," they asked and did the experiment again.  They found the same results every time they tried.  Fifteen percent of the rabbits never developed clogged arteries.  

 The observation that cracked the mystery was that the rabbits who didn't develop clogged arteries were always from the same cages.  "What is the problem with these cages?," they asked themselves.  Finally, they found out what had been happening.  The research assistant, in charge of feeding the rabbits, was opening a few cages near where the food was stored.  Every time the research assistant went to feed the rabbits, she opened those cages near the food storage, patted them and played with them while they had their fatty meal.  It was these 15% of the rabbits which instead of clogging, had cleaned up their arteries.  

 Let's salute the research assistant.  Even though a job it was, she couldn't just feed them in a mechanical fashion.  She had to stroke them, talk to them and play with them along with the feeding much like a mother who is biologically programmed to "engage" her babies while feeding.  Engagement behaviors include  touching, stroking, hugging, drawing the baby physically close to herself, looking at the baby lovingly, and talking to the baby softly.  These maternal behaviors and father's affectionate behaviors are very important for a child's physical, social, mental and emotional development. 

 Think about a baby whose mother is an addict.  Perhaps, the mother is more  involved in seeking and using drugs rather than attending to, and caring for her baby.  Add to this scene, an absent father who is chasing drugs and other women, elsewhere.   How good are the chances of this baby to grow into an emotionally content, kind, and compassionate adult?  What are the chances of this baby to grow into a peace-loving adult who will work for the well-being and welfare of his or her community.  Needless to say the chances are bleak.  

 According to Llyod deMause, an expert on social violence, when babies are unwanted by their mothers,  they will, when they become teenagers, commit four times more violent crimes than the teenagers who were wanted.   If we can just help new parents to want, love, and care for their babies, we will have only one-fourth of the violent crimes we have today.  The cost of violent crimes is estimated to be a whopping one thousand billion dollars each year, the biggest expense in health care.  This is only the financial cost, it does not include the pain and horror that thousands of families experience as a result of this violence.  Today's responsible parenting produces tomorrow's healthy and responsible adults. 

 Several years ago, a group inspired by the need for responsible and involved parenting. opened a "Community Parenting Center' in Colorado.  The Center held classes for parents in pre-natal care, infant massage, story telling, puppetry, and disciplining methods without hitting children.  Emotionally stable mothers were asked to assist overstressed mothers.  Potentially abusive parents were given special attention by the staff, often with weekly home visits.  Mothers informally dropped in to talk to other mothers for support.  Results:  the abuse statistics for the area dropped dramatically.  The cost to run similar centers across the country:  5 billions a year.  Weigh it against the cost of violent crimes.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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