Annual Research Review: Parenting and children’s brain development: the end of the beginning

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After questioning the practical significance of evidence that parenting influences brain development – while highlighting the scientific importance of such work for understanding how family experience shapes human development – this paper reviews evidence suggesting that brain structure and function are ‘chiselled’ by parenting. Although the generalisability of most findings is limited due to a disproportionate, but understandable focus on clinical samples (e.g., maltreated children with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)) and causal inferences are difficult to draw because of the observational nature of most of the evidence, it is noteworthy that some work with community samples and very new experimental work (e.g., parent training) suggests that tentative conclusions regarding effects of parenting on the developing brain may well be substantiated in future research. Such efforts should focus on parenting in the normal range, experimental manipulations of parenting, differential susceptibility to parenting effects and pathway models linking parenting to brain development and, thereby, to behavioural development. Research on parenting and children’s brain development may be regarded as at ‘the end of the beginning’.

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