In honor of Mother’s Day this weekend, I want to share with you one of my all time favorite medical studies. It shows how a little TLC from your mom may actually help protect your health, well into adulthood.
Published in 2005 in Dialoges in Clinical Neuroscience, researchers found that the how much affection a mommy rat showed to her babies in their first week of life protected them from future stress later on in life — decreasing their stress response and even lowering stress hormone production.
Researchers compared two different types of mom rats, separating them into two groups by how much they licked and groomed their babies. Mom rats in the high affection group groomed and licked their offspring twice as much as the moms in the low affection group.
Following the rats behavior for the first week of life, and then examining what effect this had on the rat babies once they became adults, researchers found that the rats who had affectionate mothers for the first week of life actually decreased there reaction to stress as an adult — producing half as much stress hormones in response to stressful stimuli and buffering their reactivity to stressful conditions. Just one week of licking and grooming their babies had a profound impact on the health of the rat pup which lasted well into adulthood.
Not only that, but this behavior impacted the next generation of rats, because pups who were licked and groomed more during that first week of life grew up to lick and groom their own babies more as parents.
How does a few days of affection translate into future health resiliency?
Researchers found that the pups who were groomed twice as much as the pups who had less affectionate moms actually had epigenetic changes to their DNA, which modified how the DNA was expressed and as a result, lowered hormone production.
Obviously this is just a study in rats, but it’s fascinating that the ability of the mother to be affectionate subsequently affected the child’s DNA expression, reducing the amount of stress hormones that are released in the face of stress as adults.
We likely will never fully know how much parents can influence their child’s future health, but if you have a mom that was attentive and affectionate with you, send her this article and thank her on Mother’s Day.
And if you didn’t have a affectionate mom?
Epigenetic changes are completely reversible. So even if you have a high stress response, or even if you have a history of trauma, or even if you are so stressed out you have adrenal fatigue, these epigenetic changes can be reversed and healed. Which protects your health and the health of future generations.
If you had a stressful childhood or lack of consistently loving parenting, you may want to hop into my next Trauma Recovery Class to learn more about how to release trauma from your body (even if your own mom put it there!) to protect your future health by clicking here.
Meanwhile, if you are a parent yourself, today I wanted to give you some quick tips on protecting the health of your own children and promoting well being for the rest of their lives.
And to my own mom, who was extremely attentive — thank you, I love you.
Because of her love I was able to navigate several highly traumatic experiences with resiliency… as well as shower my own two children with tons of love and affection, which in turn will impact their children’s health and their children’s children’s health, and on and on.
Let’s give our children lots and lots of resources to find inner strength during health challenges… because setting an example of resilience during a crisis for your children now will benefit them for the rest of their lives, even during times when you may not be there to help.
Modeling resilience now will support them forever. Here are other ways to protect their health…
10 Ways to Support Your Child’s Long Term Health:
1. Emphasize PLAY.
Play is a child’s therapy. Play is not only a relief and a respite from the seriousness that stress, illness, or trauma can bring abruptly into a child’s world, but it is a way to restore innocence. It’s a way to off-gas and release inner workings and thoughts and fears that the child doesn’t even consciously know they have yet!
Play is an avenue for healing.
Encourage play. Allow *inappropriate* play like laughter even on the saddest days, violent actions towards dolls and stuffed animals that might otherwise be macabre… during a crisis, children need to see that their favorite toys can get beaten down by life and still be there for them the next day.
Allow anger too â€” anger expressed can turn your child into a centered warrior, giving them inner strength when the anger is witnessed and allowed to flow â€” transforming a passive child desperately struggling to release fear into an empowered warrior ready for the next round.
As adults, we might find our way through illness by taking long showers or baths, working out until we reach pure physical exhaustion, crying until there are no tears left, praying and therapy and acupuncture and massage and millions of other ways…
For a child, the direct route to this is through play.
One of the best ways to keep your child healing through play is to play with them. For help discovering your own play style and how it impacts your health too, read this article I wrote for you:
2. Focus on POSSIBILITY for your child.
Illness, trauma, death, divorce… these outer circumstances may take certain choices away from your child and leave them with a feeling of not having any control over the situation. This results in DISEMPOWERMENT.
Disempowerment and lack of control is what makes trauma and illness so hard.
Sometimes it is not possible to give a promise or control outcomes in order to empower a child. Even if you can offer a choice or secure a certain outcome, this is only temporary relief anyway, because there will always be another crisis.
The healing doesn’t come from getting control back — control is (at best) an illusion. The healing comes from re-establishing POSSIBILITY!!!
Finding meaning, and even joy, by living in possibility and open ended wonderment is the healing mind-frame. Not the answer… the question.The questions are the healing.
What is possible?
What can I imagine?
What do I wonder?
What can I transform?
Re-establishing possibility and open ended thinking re-establishes health because it brings back HOPE.
Asking more then answering the questions in your life. Asking “I wonder?” Can you think of the last day you spent asking more questions than answering questions?
For many of us, that day was way back in our childhood.
Keep this realm of possibility open for your child.
Keep the potential of any and every healing outcome within reach to your child by staying open to possibility.
3. Remind your child that they are a miracle.
“The child must know that they are a miracle… that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been… and until the end of the world there will not be, another like them.”
I believe that with my whole heart, and I believe that is true for my children and that it is true for your children and that it is true for YOU.
And with that truth comes the knowing that each moment of your existence is precious and rare and valuable.
Remind your child of this by treating them in such a way that you witness their value in every moment… in sickness and in health… in joy and in pain… in tears and in laughter… in rest and at play.
4. Spend healing time in nature
The earth is perfectly suited for reminding your child that he or she is part of a bigger plan and that they are well supported for life here on this planet, that in fact the planet itself has a healing energy to give to them.
Touching the earth (grounding) supports the body’s ability to heal. I have a huge list of medical studies that reveal the healing power of grounding for you right here.
Grounding so important for children that I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about it, called From The Ground Up, available on my website and on Amazon.
This book can be an important healing tool that can set your child up for a lifetime of enhanced health by teaching them the value of spending time grounding.
Work even just a few minutes of outdoor grounding into their day, model for them touching the earth as a way to reset when you are not feeling your best, and you will have instilled in them a healing practice that will protect their health over the course of their entire lifetime.
Grounding isn’t just crucial for children, it’s crucial for their mama’s too. For more on specific ways that grounding supports female health, hop over here to read this article I wrote for you:
5. Spend healing time with animals
The comfort of an unconditionally loving pet can not be underestimated. Let your child’s favorite pet sleep with them at night, lay on their sickbed with them, even take a bath with them! And if they don’t have a pet, ask them if they’d like one. Watch their face light up.
Read more about how pets help protect our health in an article I wrote for you here:
6. Fill their world with music
Healing music has a way of opening us up to possibility. When the energy in a room gets heavy or dark or stagnant, bring new energy in with the beauty of sound.
Ask what your child would like to listen to or just begin by some gentle nature tunes like the kind used in massage therapist’s office… there is a reason this music is played, it helps the client relax and get into a healing, positive mind-frame!
7. Heal through art
Art has a way of letting you get out of your own worry and into your hands.
Many times, something you have no way of expressing or even formulating and idea about can be released through active use of your hands.
Especially for children who are facing a health crisis and are too sick to actively play or adventure or get out of the hospital or home, bringing art in (just like with music) is a way to give them a bit of play, a bit of fun, a bit of possibility back.
Modelling clay, paper and crayons, finger-paints in the bathtub… all are doing more than just giving your child something to do, it is giving your child a way to heal.
8. Be certain they are getting enough sleep.
Sleep time is healing time. Deep sleep gives the body time to repair on a different level than we can repair during activity.
Restorative sleep is crucial to the healing process.
Be sure your child is getting 10 or more hours of sleep, especially when they are facing an illness or a stressful life change.
Solid sleep allows the body to decrease inflammation, improve memory function, improve daytime stamina and decrease fatigue, increase attention span, regulate a health weight, lower stress, boost mood, and boost immune function… all key when you are fighting off illness.
And by the way, I am such a big fan of co-sleeping with babies and toddlers, especially those that are sick, that I wrote and illustrated a book about it for you.
You can find that here.
9. Know that your very presence in your child’s life transforms their future health.
YOU are a healing presence in your child’s life. Enjoy being that presence and that light for them.
During a crisis, simply your presence is enough.
It is more than enough.
Your consistency in their life is the rock upon which they draw strength, comfort, hope and yes… healing.
Continue to show your unwavering presence to your child through every health crisis they could possibly face and you show your child the power of unconditional love… the best medicine there is.
10. Read my free Parenting eBook
As a thank you to parent’s everywhere, I’ve made my parenting idea book completely free to download.
So for more ideas on how to nurture your child through stress and illness and raise them in vibrant Well Being, you can find this absolutely free Parenting Idea Book right here — I’ve written 160 pages full of ideas, information, and fun tools to nurture the fullest health potential of your child for a lifetime!
I hope you love it!
xoxox, Laura Koniver MD