The Science of Love

Little girl holding heart
During February, the month of love, I thought it would be a good time to present a different perspective on the importance of love within the family.  In my experience as a child therapist, parent coach, and mother of two, I see love as the backbone and the most essential element in parent – child relationships.  Not only does love help deepen our connections with each other, but leading research shows us that the biological impact of love is just as important.
As parents, we know how good it feels to love our children.  When we have moments of close connection with our children, heartfelt hugs, and snuggles, there is really nothing in the world that often compares to this joy that we feel in our hearts.  Leading doctor, Dean Ornish, explains that this bond of love not only feels good, but it has important physiological benefits as well.
Love has become a hot topic in medical and scientific communities and has become a top area of study in the last two decades.  As parents we can distill this inspiring information and use it to help our children grow in flourish in positive ways.
How to use the Science of Love for Better Parenting
  • Science Fact – Did you know the heart has a brain? Well, not exactly, but surprisingly, 60% of the hearts cells are neural cells, called sensory neurites which function in a very similar way to the neural cells in the brain.  In 1991, Dr. Andrew Armour of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada discovered a complex nervous system within the heart that is composed of over 40,000 neural cells.  His research described in his book, Basic and Clinical Neurocardiology (2004), found that the heart has its own intrinsic nervous system that operates and processes information independently of the brain or nervous system.  Dr. Armour calls this the “heart brain”, and explains that it can work both independently and in conjunction with the primary brain and can even learn, remember, sense and feel emotions.  What does this mean exactly?  According to Dr. McCraty of the Institute of HeartMath, the heart transmits what if feels to the parts of your brain that govern emotions and higher reasoning.
  • Parenting Tip – When we parent from our heart, not just our heads, we often make better decisions regarding our children.  Tune in to your feelings regarding your children and know that your heart not only feels love, but carries tremendous wisdom.  Our heart often leads us to the best choices in parenting.
  • Science Fact – According to Dr. McCraty, the electro-magnetic field of the heart is 5,000 times stronger than the field produced by brain.  Interestingly, the electro-magnetic field of our heart interacts with the electro-magnetic fields of other people.  Research done at the University of Arizona using new EKG technology that shows that when a person is “feeling” the positive emotions of love, appreciation, and kindness they emit certain “heart waves” (measured by EKG).  Other people in close proximity instinctively tune into these heart waves and then their heart and brain waves tend to synchronize with the other person.
  • Parenting Tip – When parents behave lovingly towards their children, children can feel it in their hearts.  Their heart waves then usually synchronize with their parent’s heart waves and they can connect on a deeper level.  These feelings of love also light up the emotional centers of the brain and affect how children process and interpret their inner and outer experiences.
However, when feelings of love, appreciation and kindness are absent, heart and brain wave synchronization between parent and child does not often happen and there is a disconnect.  Often children and parents describe this disconnected feeling to me as a wall or a gap between them.  If you are having this feeling with your child, it is time to put more focus on the positive feelings of love and appreciation you have for them.
  • Science Fact – According to Doc Childre, founder of the Institute of HeartMath, when positive emotions of love, happiness, care, and appreciation are felt, they “not only change patterns of activity in the nervous system; they also reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol.” Less cortisol results in less stress and better brain function.
  • Parenting Tip – One of the best ways to help our children start the day off right and be successful in school is to shower them with love in the morning.  Mornings can be busy, but to reduce stress and help boost your child’s brain power at school, give this next idea a try and see if you notice a difference:
*Spend an extra 10 minutes of cuddle time or one on one time together talking about something that makes your child shine and feel loved.  Example: Talk about their strengths: how great they did in soccer, how hard they try in school, their great sense of humor, etc…  Give your child (and yourself) this extra 10 minutes of love in the morning and I am fairly certain you will both notice a positive difference in your day.
  • Science Fact – Boulder local, and former Harvard professor Joan Borysenko, Md., explains that feeling loved and cared for boosts the immune system.  People who feel loved and cared for are sick less often, recover from illness faster and have a longer life expectancy.
  • Parenting Tip – As parents, we can think of our love being like the very best vitamin – daily doses are vital for the health of our children!
  • Science Fact – Doc Childre explains that when positive feelings such as appreciation, care, or compassion are focused on, changes can be created in a persons heart rhythms. These changes precipitate a series of neural, hormonal, and biochemical changes in the body that dissipate stress and anger and lead to greater well-being.
  • Parenting Tip – This is a great technique for parents to keep in mind when feeling stressed or angry.  All parents feel frustrated at times, and it is ok to feel our feelings, but we don’t want to take this out on our children.  When we can move into a place of love and appreciation, we can help transform our more difficult feelings.  For example, as a parent I feel frustrated when my children leave their things out around the house.  My instinct may be to yell, “PUT YOUR TOYS AWAY!!!” but instead, I look for something they did do well and show them my appreciation and then piggy back it with a request:  “Great job putting your shoes away, let’s do the same with your coat.” My frustration goes away, tasks are getting done and we avoid the yelling, and power struggles.
Love has innumerable benefits. In addition to the information mentioned above, children who report feeling loved and cared for tend to love themselves more, have better relationships with their parents, do better in school, have more confidence and tend to be more successful in relationships as well as in their careers.
Love and kindness has a far reaching impact on our children.  We all love our children, and it is important to make sure they really feel it on a deep level.  It’s easy for us as parents to assume our children know we love them just because we are their parents and because we know we love them.  But for love to be fully recognized and incorporated, children need to know they are loved, hear it, feel it, see it and sense it.  So how do we as parents do all of this?
  • Children need quality time with parents to know that they are important, that they are valued.
  • They need to hear the words, “I love you”.  They also need to hear love, care and respect in the words we use as well as the tone we use with them in our everyday conversations.  (Note – Put downs, degrading comments and frequent yelling undermine feelings of love).
  • Children need to physically feel the caring touch of hugs, cuddles, and close contact from their parents.
  • They also need to see love in our actions and the way that we interact with and treat them.
When parents can show their love in these ways, children then develop a deep sense of being loved.
With all of the benefits love has to improve our children’s lives, it is important that we take the time to connect with our children in loving ways as often as possible.  When it comes to parenting, love really is the answer.
The Science of Love​ – Written by Anya Beebe for Colorado Parent Magazine Feb,2013

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