Chronic stress has long been under study by scientists but the most recent findings show that long term stressors, such as poverty or depression, can increase a host of negative behaviors in parenting.
Melissa Sturge-Apple, Ph.D. is publishing the paper in Development and Psychopathology discusses the effects that stress can have on a mother’s body.
“It literally changes the way a mother’s body responds to the normal demands of small children and those changes make it much harder to parent positively.”
Participants in the study were hooked up to an electrocardiograph monitor, which was designed to be an unobtrusive device for the parents to wear during their normal routines. It measured slight changes in heart rhythms and in the production of cortisol, the bodies stress hormone.
Mothers who were under high levels of chronic stress triggers tended to have more negative responses to their children’s needs, responding with higher levels of hostility and angrier tones of voice. The study also indicated that higher stress levels correlated with rougher physical interactions.
There was a difference between reactions by mothers dealing with stressors such as depression versus mothers dealing with external stress inducers such as poverty or high crime neighborhoods. The latter were inflicted with an under active stress reaction and these parents showed the highest levels of disengagement from their children. Even when instructed to play with their children, mothers suffering from these types of chronic stressors were more likely to ignore their kids. Sturge-Apple contributes this response as being due to an over exposure to high stress situations, making their child’s stress call become less imperative.
The study followed 153 mothers with children between 17 and 19 months of age during two-hour sessions. It will be published in November.
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