Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of www.curiousneuron.com
I saw something yesterday that deeply disturbed me. I was at the park with my daughter and I heard a woman yelling very loudly. I am not sure what instigated this level of anger in her, but she was yelling at construction workers on the street. Who can blame her, I live in downtown Montreal and am surrounded by orange cones and 40 min detours to get home. Who wouldn't get mad?! However, what disturbed me and literally made me feel nauseous was the fact that she was holding the hand of a little girl who was probably about 2 years old and she was also pushing a stroller with a very small baby in it.
As a parent, I can understand that there are moments when you just want to yell at the top of your lungs. However, as a brain and learning specialist, I also learned that it is important that I bite my tongue to avoid yelling or getting upset in front of my child.
Parents should always try to refrain from arguing around a baby.
The infant brain is very vulnerable to stress. High stress can impact the development of the emotion parts of the brain. A baby can detect anger in a voice as early as 5 months. Parental arguing causes stress in the baby, elevating their heart rate and increasing their blood pressure. Studies have shown that parental arguing can also cause sleep disturbances in babies. Moreover, parents who have argued in front of their baby as or birth can literally alter the development of their child's brain. In a recent research study, connections between the front of the brain called the "frontal lobe" known to be involved in cognition (memory, attention and problem solving) and the amygdala (emotion hub of the brain) were "overly connected", meaning that negative emotions were hyperactive under stress. It doesn't take much arguing either. Even moderate levels of stress cause babies to react more intensely to an angry tone of voice. An interesting study called "What sleeping babies hear", showed that if a baby is exposed to parental arguing, their brain responds more strongly to angry voices even while they sleep!!
Even if a child is older, we don't realize the impact that arguing in front of them can have, especially on their mindset when they are sitting in their classroom at school. I have worked with many children in schools, and when I talk about emotions and the brain, parental or family arguments are often brought up by children as causes of stress for them. Children hear what you are saying and it impacts them. They also learn to yell at others when they feel angry if this is what a parent is modelling. We need to think of the impact this has on them.
Take a moment to breathe and think before yelling while your baby is with you.
Let's learn to take a deep breath before yelling at the car in front of us for cutting us off or getting mad at our spouse for forgetting to take the garbage out! Taking a breath before yelling, will not only help us learn how to deal with our own anger but it will also provide a more positive environment that will allow an infant brain to develop well and help our children learn to deal with emotions and stress more effectively later in life.
**Thank you to Barry Morgan, host of the CJAD radio station in Montreal for interviewing us in October 2016 regarding this blog post!!