Traditional Parenting Techniques Linked to Brain Stress

Until recently, traditional parenting techniques such as consequences, points and rewards, and spanking have been used by parents throughout the world as effective measures of correction for behaviors deemed socially inappropriate. In fact, schools continue to use all of these, including spanking, as a measure to deter problem behaviors in children. New findings from the field of neuroscience are demonstrating that such measures may in fact be detrimental to healthy brain development in children and may even be one of the major causes of the over-prescription of medication.

What Science Reveals

The amygdala is an almondshaped cluster of nerve fibers which is located at the base of the brain. According to New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self, it is the fear receptor of the brain. It is primarily responsible for sensing threats in the environment. As such, the amygdala is not a part of the higher evolved thinking brain, but rather controls the emotional hemisphere of an individual. This area of the brain is directly linked to the first place stress hormones released from within the neural system, scientifically known as corticotrophin releasing factor.


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Parenting techniques which are threatening, fear-based, lacking in empathy or parental compassion can cause the amygdala to release large amounts of stress hormones into the brain and body system. In many instances, this release, if occurring routinely, without sufficient interruption, can create the experience of trauma.


Trauma is defined as any stressful event which is prolonged, overwhelming, or unpredictable. Traumatic levels of stress hormones distributed via the amygdala have the potential to create neuronal damage to another area of the brain responsible for clear thinking and short-term memory. In fact, research points out that during times of high stress, thinking processes become confused and distorted, and the short-term memory is suppressed.

Findings from the field of neuroscience indicate that during critical times of development, the use of such punitive techniques for behavior control may initiate the early framework for difficulty interacting in important social arenas such as in school and with peers. These social struggles are most often noted by behavior described as hyperactive, depressed, or aggressive. These behaviors then become the basis for medication being prescribed to children. In this instance, not only may the medication being prescribed mask a deeper challenge for the child, but it may possibly be being administered for all of the wrong reasons.

Information regarding the connection between punitive behavior management, stress, increasingly disruptive behavior and the routine prescription of medication to children for the purpose of promoting behavior that the adult world can more readily tolerate is not often discussed within parenting and educational forums.

The field of neuroscience has been less successful in sharing their message than pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, parents are being encouraged to educate themselves both about the use of traditional parenting techniques and the use of psychiatric medication in children


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