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Strong Parent-Child Relationship Especially Important for Adopted Kids

Strong Parent-Child Relationship Especially Important for Adopted Kids

New research finds that for children who have experienced early institutional care, a strong relationship with their adoptive parents aids brain development and improves a child’s long-term mental health.

The study showed that children who demonstrated reduced brain activity in a region important for emotion, the amygdala, in response to their adoptive parents had lower anxiety levels later in life. The research appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Experts believe parents have the most influence on amygdala development during childhood, and separation from parents can disrupt the positive effect. To study the impact of this parental influence on later emotion regulation in children, Bridget Callaghan, Ph.D., Columbia University, and colleagues used brain imaging to observe the amygdala response to photos of parents in children who lived in institutional care before international adoption into the United States.

They then compared their responses with those of children who had always lived with their biological parents.

“This remarkable study in a large sample of children who were adopted out of institutions provides new insights into how parenting can have a positive impact on brain function related to emotion processing,” said Cameron Carter, M.D., editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Although children who experienced early institutional care did not demonstrate the amygdala response that mediates the positive parental influence when looked at as a group, the researchers also looked at the individual responses of children who reported having a secure relationship with the adoptive parent: Their amygdala responses predicted a greater decrease in anxiety symptoms three years later.

“A strong parent-child relationship is always important for brain and behavioral development, but the current findings suggest that such relationships may be especially important following early institutional care,” said senior author Nim Tottenham, Ph.D., Director of the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Lab at Columbia University.

The findings suggest that the decrease of amygdala activity in response to parents during childhood protects against later symptoms of anxiety after early separation from parents. The age at adoption didn’t have an effect on the findings, indicating the importance of the post-adoption environment in particular on long-term mental health.

“These are important findings, as they show that even following early adverse experiences, post-adoption factors can make a difference in emotional health, and highlight a neural mechanism for doing so,” said Callaghan.

Focusing on a child’s feelings of security with their adoptive parents after institutional care might help enhance the positive influence of parents on amygdala development and help set up the child for healthy regulation of their own emotions later in life.

Source: Elsevier/EurekAlert

Strong Parent-Child Relationship Especially Important for Adopted Kids

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Strong Parent-Child Relationship Especially Important for Adopted Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/04/04/strong-parent-child-relationship-especially-important-for-adopted-kids/144329.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Apr 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Apr 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.