Parenting quality and children's mental health: biological mechanisms and psychological interventions

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Abstract

Purpose of review

The quality of parenting that children receive can have a profound influence on their development and mental health. This article reviews articles published from late 2010 onwards that address the effects of parenting on the child's physiological and genetic systems, and how interventions can improve children's security of attachments, antisocial behaviour and other outcomes across a range of settings.

Recent findings

Biological indices of stress, such as C-reactive protein, show that prenatal anxiety is a significant determinant of later outcomes for children, and abusive parenting of young children has lasting biological effects into adulthood. Increasingly, specific genes, especially those that code for neurotransmitter synthesis and functions, are being identified that moderate parenting effects. Furthermore, animal studies suggest that harsh parenting affects the expression of genes by epigenetic processes.

Recent findings

Parenting programmes are effective in increasing the security of infant children's attachments, and reducing conduct problems/antisocial behaviour in childhood, and they can be effective at a population level in preventing abuse. These programmes are now widening their reach to cover a broader range of children's outcomes such as literacy and obesity.

Summary

We are learning much more about the biological impact of poor parenting and the need for interventions that are crafted to improve the quality of parent–child relationships in many settings. Hopefully, they will also ameliorate the biological effects of poor parenting.

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