Baby's Brain in Week 31
At this age, babies' emotional antennas are fine-tuned. They know the difference between happy and sad faces ; they hear a voice and can tell if it's pleasant or gruff. And there's more: Children this age can also sense emotions that arise between the people in their immediate environment, even if those feelings aren't directed at them.
Your baby is keenly aware of the emotional tenor in your family. She senses when Mom and Dad are happy and when an argument turns heated. Call it secondhand sensitively to stress or bliss.
Because, of course, a new baby brings lots of both: Parents feel joyful but overwhelmed. They feel frustrated when determining just what Baby needs; they're both extremely sleep-deprived. It's easy to see how tempers can flare, but what most people don't realize is that even if they're not hollering at their infant, Baby still knows when it occurs, and it affects her.
What the Research Shows
Numerous studies confirm that witnessing anger, whether verbal or non-verbal, is a stressor for kids. In one study, young children played while adult actors verbally expressed anger to one another in the background. Kids as young as six months became startled or exhibited fear in reaction to anger.
Other research shows that displays of anger can affect kids:
- Emotionally: Children may cry, freeze up, and show facial distress.
- Physically: They may experience changes in heart rate, blood pressure, pallor, and perspiration.
- Developmentally: The stress of witnessing conflict between family members can interfere with the healthy development of the brain. While occasional moderate stress may provide a sort of healthy exercise for the developing nervous system, intense or chronic stress is not healthy. Cortisol, a hormone released from stress, can block neuron growth and branching and can influence the myelination—or connections—of neurons.