Warm Fuzzies Loving Relationships Help Children Develop, Doctor Tells Educators

Article excerpt

A lack of close relationships early in life more than doubles the risk for aggressive behavior, Dr. John Constantino, a child psychiatrist and pediatrician, told an international organization of parent educators on Monday.

Aggression is like intelligence, he said. Most of a child's patterns are set by the time the child turns 5 or 6 years old, and it is increasingly difficult to change behavior after that, Constantino said at a session for people who educate parents.

Constantino, an instructor at Washington University School of Medicine, spoke at the annual Parents as Teachers International Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Union Station. Nearly 1,000 people were expected to attend the conference, which runs through today. The international o rganization provides information and support to parents of children from birth to age 5.

Honored at a lunch Monday for the work she has done for children and families was Jane Paine, a board member of the Parents as Teachers National Center here and the Child Welfare League of America. She is a former consultant with the Danforth Foundation.

Constantino told educators that environmental influences affected the structure of the brain, the number of neurons and connections. Researchers say that parents who talk, read and sing to their children are going beyond sharing warm, fuzzy feelings. They are helping their children's brains form.

"So much happens in terms of brain development early in life," Constantino said. "The earlier the intervention, the bigger the effect."

Constantino is one of five scientists at Washington University working with parent educators in a three-year project to help parents learn the latest in brain research.

Constantino said that children learn from their earliest relationships. If a child learns that seeking comfort from a care-giver is associated with pain or rejection, the child will be less likely to seek relationships with others later in life.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors seems to determine violent behavior, and signs indicate a secure attachment to someone in the first few years of life protects a child from developing abnormally aggressive behavior. …