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How Babies are Stressed Because Their Parents are Stressed

How Babies are Stressed Because Their Parents are Stressed

Studies have shown that stressful environments can lead to babies under the age of one growing up to be less developed in flexibility and creativity. Prior to a recent groundbreaking study on the subject, researchers had already found that adults under stress tended to choose habitual options for just about everything even when a better alternative had presented itself. So they decided to see if this was also true for young children. The test separated infants from their parents and took them to a room with a complete stranger who had an unfamiliar toy.


The second stage of the test involved showing the infant a mechanism with two buttons that made a noise when pushed. Both worked at first, but one suddenly stopped being an option because it was covered. It was uncovered, and the button they had been pushing stopped working altogether. Another group had this same button test with the same results. But this second group had been allowed to play with their parent and a familiar toy beforehand. Similar tests before this one had shown results that didn’t really prove anything one way or another.

This test proved differently. For the first 20 seconds, there was no difference between the two groups. However, that changed. In this test the first round, the stressed babies continue to push the ineffective button by habit. After about 20 seconds, the second unstressed babies changed from the non-working, familiar button to the newly uncovered working button. In this way, they discovered that there was a decided effect of it on infants. Although with only 26 test babies it might not be as strong a conclusion as possible, it did present some very interesting new discoveries.

Babies mimic their parents from an early age

In addition, it strengthened the belief that stressful environments inhibited flexibility in choices and creativity. It also does strengthen the notion that children and adults react the same way. It suggests that stress affects the ability of any age human to make new and effective decisions if they are unfamiliar options. Also, babies take just about all of their cues from their parents. They start doing whatever they do as soon as they are born. It is true that they automatically start mimicking everyone-even other babies but parents are their primary sources.


Babies are also tuned into their parent’s emotions. That means that if a parent is stressed, their infant has a greater chance of becoming stressed. Conversely, if a parent is happy, his or her child is more likely to be happy.

Infants in families with adults with these problems have a harder time coping with life and really understanding it. Harmful varieties of stress like this is called Toxic Stress. Parents who experience some form of Toxic Stress when their child is an infant should be prepared to help them function when they get older. If such support is not provided, a child may grow into a developmentally impaired adult. In any case, separating a from his or her parents does far more damage than any good. It not only impairs their decision making; it also separates them from a large part of their decision-making framework.

Take away: Parents, keep in mind the importance of managing your stress – not just for you but also for your babies!

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