A lot can happen during a single lifetime – marriages, divorces, career changes, births, diseases, deaths, not to mention all the small things in daily life. Yet, it is during childhood when we lay the most important foundation that can last and influence our entire life.
People are facing the ongoing roller coaster of life, we’re all well familiar with this. However, a 2016 study published in Psychological Science found that men raised in warmer, more supportive family environments, had stronger relationships as older adults and were more able to manage their negative emotions. This is leading many researchers to wonder whether the skills necessary to manage the ups and downs of life are actually developed in childhood.
This long-running study was conducted in two parts. The research is a continuation of Harvard University’s Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study of adult well-being and health that has spanned almost eighty years.
During its beginning in 1938, “researchers enrolled male Harvard students and inner-city Boston teens and used lengthy interviews to rate the quality of the boys’ family environments. Different researchers then followed up with the men in midlife to assess how successfully they were able to manage negative emotions.” – says Scientific American.
Almost eight decades later, new researchers met with the men who originally participated in the 1938 study. In the 2016 study, co-authors Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, and Marc Schulz, a psychologist at Bryn Mawr College, interviewed the participants, who were now in their 80s. The aim of the second part of this study was to assess their level of attachment to their partners.
Waldinger and Schulz found that, regardless of their socioeconomic status, men who grew up in close families used better ways to manage their negative emotions not only in midlife, but also in their old age. These men were also much more securely attached to their partners.
The results of their study suggest that childhood environment affects people’s relationships, not only while they’re young adults, but in their old age as well. Therefore, warmer family environments result in better and more stable emotional relationships later in life.
Authors of the study advise parents that there are many ways to overcome having a difficult childhood, such as actively working on developing warmer relationships in adulthood or learning healthier strategies to cope with negative emotions.
“The bottom line,” Robert Waldinger says, “is that how we take care of children is just so vitally important.”
Be sure to share this article with all parents you know. They too should reflect on these findings and realize how demonstrating their love for their children truly matters.