Family Dynamics Impact Emotional Development in Babies
The transition to parenthood forces many parents to revise their romantic relationship. How this dynamic changes (or does not change) into a familial dynamic in the first year of a baby’s life can impact emotional development in children farther down the road — but maybe not as much as you’d expect.
A longitudinal study of 710 Finnish families checked in with parents during pregnancy, and with parents and their child at the age of 12 months, 2 years, and in middle childhood. The study found dysfunctional family dynamics, no matter how unique, in Year 1 predicted children’s difficulty regulating their emotions years later in middle childhood; these children relied more on psychological defence mechanisms, for instance, denying their own painful emotions and blaming others instead. But family dynamics in Year 1 only accounted for 10% of this difficulty. The rest of the difficulty likely compounds via family dynamics year on year, suggested Jallu Lindblom, a doctoral candidate at the University of Tampere, Finland, in his dissertation.
“Maybe the first year accounts 10%, and each of the following years account 3%. At the age of 10 years, this would mean 10% + 3% * 10 = 40% effect [of family dynamics], which would be huge effect,” Lindblom said. “Further studies, focusing on families and their cumulative effects, are needed.”
Learn about emotional development in children on The Swaddle.
However, Lindblom sees this breakdown of emotional development in children as positive knowledge that can tailor early childhood interventions for children from dysfunctional families. It also enables parents to course-correct before the family environment has a significant impact on emotional development in children. (Lindblom noted the study only focused on typical families, and did not include children in family environments of maltreatment, neglect or abuse.)
“Many parents will have a sense of guilt, and some may even ‘give up’ being a good parent because of feeling a failure [from providing a dysfunctional early environment],” Lindblom said. “Research suggests, however, that children, and humans overall, are made to last and to survive, not to be as fragile as we sometimes think. This is not to say that children would not need (and benefit from) sensitive, loving and caring parenting, balanced and harmonious family environments. Of course they do. But if things go ashtray, there is still hope for the child during later development.”
But perhaps most importantly, these new findings on emotional development in children can be used to prepare parents-to-be and prevent children entering dysfunctional family environments; Lindblom said a consistent finding of the study was that couples with problems before the birth of a child experienced exaggerated family dysfunction afterward.
“Having a baby will not solve your relationship problems,” Lindblom said.