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Parental Touch, Support & Play Vital to Kids' Well-Being as Adults

Parent’s Touch, Support & Play Vital to Kids’ Happiness as Adults

A new study shows that receiving affection from our parents, playing freely, and feeling supported as a child lead to increased happiness as an adult.

According to researchers from the University of Notre Dame, one of the reasons that the well-being of children in the U.S.  lags behind that of children in other advanced nations is because “we have forgotten that we are social mammals with specific evolved needs from birth.”

“Humans evolved with a nest of care for their young that matches up with the maturational schedule of the child. It was shaped over 30 million years ago and modified through human evolution,” said Dr. Darcia Narvaez, a professor of psychology at the university.

“We call it the evolved developmental niche.”

Narvaez notes there are six components to this niche:

  • Soothing, naturalistic perinatal experiences;
  • Responsiveness to a baby’s needs, including sensitivity to the signals of the baby before the baby cries;
  • Constant physical presence with plenty of affectionate touch;
  • Extensive breastfeeding;
  • Playful interactions with caregivers and friends;
  • A community of affectionate, mindful caregivers.

For the study, Narvaez and colleagues Drs. Lijuan Wang and Ying Cheng asked adults to reflect on their childhoods according to several components of the evolved developmental niche (EDN). Questions included: How much did they receive physical affection? Play freely outside and inside? Do things as a family inside and outside the home? Feel supported?

Adults who reported receiving more of such parenting practices in their childhoods display less depression and anxiety, a greater ability to take the perspective of others, and an orientation toward compassion.

Adults who report less of these parenting practices in their childhood have poorer mental health, more distress in social situations, and are less able to take another’s point of view, according to the study’s findings.

“Our research shows that when we don’t provide children with what they evolved to need, they turn into adults with decreased social and moral capacities,” Narvaez said. “With toxic stress in childhood, the good stuff doesn’t get a chance to grow and you become stress-reactive.

“It’s hard to be compassionate when you are focused on yourself. We can see adults all around us who were traumatized or undercared for at critical times.”

The study was published in the journal Applied Developmental Science.

Source: University of Notre Dame


Parents with daughter photo by shutterstock.

Parent’s Touch, Support & Play Vital to Kids’ Happiness as Adults

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Parent’s Touch, Support & Play Vital to Kids’ Happiness as Adults. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 23 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.