Parents shouting at children ‘can lead to brain development problems’

Rob Waugh
·2 min read

Watch: Harsh parenting techniques 'could impact a child's brain development'

Parents who get extremely angry at children could lead to the youngsters developing smaller brain structures, a new study has warned.

The researchers say that shouting at children, becoming extremely angry or hitting them can lead to brain development problems during adolescence – as well as emotional problems.

The research was based on analysis of a group of children who were monitored for exposure to harsh parenting – and then MRI-scanned as adolescents.

Researcher Sabrina Suffren of the University of Montreal said: "The implications go beyond changes in the brain. I think what's important is for parents and society to understand that the frequent use of harsh parenting practices can harm a child's development.

"We're talking about their social and emotional development, as well as their brain development."

Read more: Challenging your partner's harsh parenting could help your child

Previous research has shown that children who have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse have smaller prefrontal cortexes and amygdala.

The two brain structures play a key role in emotional regulation and the emergence of anxiety and depression.

The Canadian researchers observed that the same brain regions were smaller in adolescents who had repeatedly been subjected to harsh parenting in childhood, even though the children did not experience more serious acts of abuse.

Upset stressed mother grabbing her child yelling at her. Bad parenting.
Shouting at children can cause serious harm. (Getty)

Suffren said: "These findings are both significant and new. It's the first time that harsh parenting practices that fall short of serious abuse have been linked to decreased brain structure size, similar to what we see in victims of serious acts of abuse.”

Suffren said a 2019 study had already "showed that harsh parenting practices could cause changes in brain function among children, but now we know that they also affect the very structure of children's brains."

The researchers looked at children who were monitored since birth in a Montreal University study.

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As part of this monitoring, parenting practices and child anxiety levels were examined annually while the children were between the ages of 2 and 9.

The researchers used the data to divide the children into groups based on their exposure to harsh parenting practices such as shouting.

Suffren said: "Keep in mind that these children were constantly subjected to harsh parenting practices between the ages of 2 and 9. This means that differences in their brains are linked to repetitive exposure to harsh parenting practices during childhood."

The researchers assessed the children's anxiety levels and perform anatomical MRIs on them between the ages of 12 and 16.

Watch: Six-year-old boy stunned when Mum lies and says she never shouts at him