People Would Be Nicer If They Got More Cuddling and Breast Milk, Study Says
Know what Atilla the Hun's problem was?
Not enough breast milk when he was in kindergarten.
Plus, he never got the parental attention he deserved. That Atilla was left alone to rant and rave in his crib without anyone picking him up and saying, "There, there, good Mongol warrior. Everything's all right. No need to disembowel your teddy bear."
People would be a lot nicer if they got more cuddling and breast milk, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame.
Our ancestors, back around the time of the Flintstones, got more of both. Especially breast milk.
Darcia Narvaez, the study's lead researcher, says in a university press release that humans should really drink breast milk until they are kindergarten age. A child's immune system isn't fully formed until age 6, and breast milk provides its building blocks, she adds.
Ancient humans used to breast-feed children longer until people started getting all weirded out by women's breasts. Suddenly, a woman breast-feeding a 5-year-old was considered creepy.
Too bad, Narvaez says in the release. Her study shows that children who get more cuddling and breast milk grow up more mentally healthy and with more highly developed empathy and consciences than their milk- and cuddle-deprived counterparts.
They might even be smarter.
Narvaez suggests we have lost our way. Our hunting and gathering tribal ancestors did things by instinct that we now, in our pretentious sense of enlightenment, have abandoned. One of them is cuddling our babies when they cry.
Many parents believe you shouldn't respond with cuddling and affection every time your baby cries out in his or her crib. You may well spoil the little brat. In fact, Narvaez says in the release, responding promptly and lovingly is the best thing you can do.
"Warm, responsive care giving like this keeps the infant's brain calm in the years it is forming its personality and response to the world," she says.
Our ancestors also let babies and young children sleep with them. Many, if not most, children nowadays sleep in separate rooms completely separated from the elders. That's not necessarily a good thing, according to Narvaez.
The bottom line, she says in the release, is you can't love a child too much.
"Our research shows that the roots of moral functioning form early in life, in infancy, and depend on the affective quality of family and community support," says Narvaez, who specializes in the moral and character development of children.
Her research included studying the practices of parents of 3-year-olds and a separate study of how certain child-rearing practices relate to what happens to children in a national child abuse prevention project. She and her researchers also compared parenting practices between mothers in the United States.
Her results will be presented at a conference next month at the university titled "Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness."
Narvaez identifies six characteristics of child rearing common to our distant ancestors:
- Lots of positive touch
- Prompt responses to a crying baby
- Breast-feeding up to age 5
- Multiple adult caregivers; it takes a village, in other words
- Natural childbirth, providing mothers with the hormone boosts that give them the energy to care for a newborn
- Free play with playmates ranging from other children to adults.
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