The Impact of Early Adversity on Parenting

Linda Mayes, MD

Stress, ACEs, Brain Architecture, Brain Plasticity, Serve and Return, Addiction, Air Traffic Control

June 2011

Dr. Linda Mayes, from the Yale Child Study Center and Yale School of Medicine, looks at the key brain systems involved with reward seeking and stress regulation that are central to the capacities required to care for another (e.g., there is a neural circuitry for parental care and attachment). Early adversity may lead to enduring neural changes in sensitivity to rewards and to stress. Similarly, the enduring effects of early adversity impact capacities and neural circuits involved in parental care and attachment such that infant signals such as cries or other markers of distress elicit heightened stress in parents and disrupt, rather than elicit, parental care. Early adversity also impacts the ability to think about and reflect on the emotional needs of one’s self and of the infant, especially under times of stress. How early adversity impacts parenting also informs the understanding of the intergenerational transmission of adversity and intervention approaches.

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