“THE CHILD is father to the man,” is a famous Freudian maxim. It means that a child’s critical years—zero-five years old—can spell his adult character and destiny. It’s a proverbial thought on the effects of motherhood to an infant. A mother not only influences her child’s thoughts but also shapes her child’s mind in his early years.

In developmental psychology, maternal care and touch are said to determine the type of person an individual becomes from the first three years of his life when he hardly recalls anything due to infantile amnesia.

Touch me, mold me

According to psychologist Maria Suzette Agcaoili of the UST Psychotrauma Clinic, an infant experiences anxiety just minutes after birth. “In the moment that the umbilical cord is cut, the infant experiences separation anxiety,” she said.

From the safe and controlled environment of the mother’s womb, the infant is exposed to a new environment and has to express its needs through nonverbal cues.

“Stimuli, like touch, sound, and smell, become cues to communicate with the infant. The infant communicates to the environment by crying, smiling, and so on,” she said.

An experiment on Rhesus monkeys conducted in the late 1950’s by American psychologist Harry Harlow of the University of Wisconsin proved that animals and humans seek not only physiological sustenance, but also a mother’s warmth, proximity, and comfort.

Another important form of physical contact between a mother and infant is breastfeeding. According to Agcaoili, aside from the fact that breastmilk lessens the infant’s susceptibility to diseases, breastfeeding is beneficial because the infant experiences touch.

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Pagbangon ng pelikulang Pilipino

“When a mother breastfeeds, the infant feels the arms of the mother. This sensation of touch sends signals to the brain that communicate to the infant,” Agcaoili said.

Touch is vital to an infant because in its absence, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Prolonged cortisol release poses several health risks like excessive production of glycogen that causes increased blood sugar. It also lowers the immune system activity, making the infant more prone to sickness. Moreover, cortisol can also cause increase in blood pressure and damage in some parts of the brain.

Agcaoili said that human behavior is a manifestation of the kind of parenting an individual receives.

“The reason why some children develop rebellious behavior is because of the possibility that they might have been raised in a rigid and reprimanding environment,” she said.

This idea of emotional reciprocity is reinforced by the attachment theory of psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1950’s and 1960’s respectively. Based on this theory, parenting styles develop into different attachment styles. An individual’s attachment style can either be secure or insecure.

Secure attachment style is characterized by a well-adjusted personality that is capable of creating deep and meaningful relationships. This is achieved when the adult caregiver, usually the mother, responds to the child in an apt, regular and consistent manner.

Insecure attachment style, on the other hand, develops when the needs of the child are not sufficiently addressed. Such attachment style manifests itself in three subtypes, namely avoidant, ambivalent and disorganized.

When parents have been absent or rejecting, the child may develop an avoidant attachment style and adapt to his environment by withdrawing from personal relationships. Inconsistency in parenting may cause a child to have an ambivalent attachment style, making him or her anxious and undecided in forming other relationships. Lastly, parents who have been punitive may cause the child to be incapable of regulating his or her own emotions and develop disorganized attachment style. A child with this attachment style may also exhibit other emotional disorders.

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Stereotype

Intelligence and touch

A 2004 study by neuropsychoanalist Allan Schore, proved that a mother’s love extends far more than influencing an individual’s disposition. His study integrated in the book titled Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, argues that although genetics plays a primary role in the shaping of the brain, social interactions and the environment are necessary to activate the infant’s inherited genes.

Schore argues that early social development, as mediated by the mother, influences not only the emotional aspect of an individual, but also the biological aspect. In his book, he emphasized that mother and child interaction influences the maturation of the orbitofrontal cortex, the executor of the right side of the brain. Biopsychologists refer to the right brain as the emotional brain, as it is responsible for modulating behavior and emotions. Schore maintains that the formation of the orbitofrontal cortex is highly critical to the child’s future capacity to self-regulate emotions, evaluate others’ emotional state, and manage stress. Hence, a child’s upbringing largely influences, although not determines, his or her future relationships.

According to Agcaoili, the proper caring, nurturing and love of a mother is essential and beneficial to the child.

“For the child to develop a positive disposition, the unconditional outlook of the mother towards the child should be radiated even through simple gestures like bathing and breastfeeding,” she said. Catherine G. Patacsil

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