Stressed mums have weaker bonds with their kids

Measuring the brain activity of a mother-child pair watching animation clips together. Credit: NTU.

The pressure and stress associated with the demands of parenting may put mother-child relationships at risk, according to psychologists at NTU’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab.

Parenting stress occurs when the demands of parenting exceed the coping resources that a parent perceives to have available. To better understand how parenting stress affects mother-child relationships, the researchers investigated the ability of mothers to tune in to their children’s emotional states when engaged in a joint attention task.

Using an imaging technique called tandem functional near-infrared spectroscopy, the researchers measured the prefrontal cortex brain activity of mother-child pairs watching children’s animation clips together.

The brain activity of mothers reporting higher levels of parenting stress showed significantly lower synchrony with their children’s brain activity compared to that of mothers reporting lower stress levels.

“Our study shows that parenting stress may very well weaken mother-child communication early in the process of social interaction,” says study lead Nanyang Asst Prof Gianluca Esposito of NTU’s School of Social Sciences.

“The stressed mother’s reduced ability to share her child’s perspective may reduce the quality of parental engagement and even undermine the mother-child relationship in the long run.”

The research “Parenting stress undermines mother-child brain-to-brain synchrony: a hyperscanning study” was published in Scientific Reports (2019), DOI: 10.1038/ s41598-019-47810-4, and featured in Psychology Today (2019),; International Business Times (2019),; and ScienceDaily (2019),
The article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #16, February 2020). 

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