OPINION: Why a happy childhood is more important than we think

Robert Labayen

Posted at Dec 26 2016 09:30 PM

Illustrated by Robert Labayen

I learned only recently about a scientific explanation why childhood can determine if a person will be happy or sad in later life.

Psychologist Rick Hanson revealed in the book "Hardwiring Happiness" the role of the amygdala in a person’s emotional inclination. The amygdala is a part of the brain that performs a primary role in the processing of emotions, memories and decisions.

Hanson cited a study by Wil Cunningham in which he found that parents unable to provide a warm and loving environment can make their children develop a “sad amygdala.” On the other hand, love and positive reinforcement can grow a “happy amygdala” in children. These children become optimistic and focused on opportunities instead of frustrations.

Fortunately, we can still cheer the sad amygdalas up even in adult life. Constant exposure to happiness and genuine love will help reverse the condition.

Experiences literally change the shape of our brain. Hanson also mentioned a research by Eleanor Maguire who discovered that London Taxi drivers developed a large lump in the hippocampus. That’s the part of the brain responsible for memory and visual and spatial orientation.

When we spend happy moments with children, playing games or having fun with colors, shapes, sounds, games, etc., we may actually alter the physical makeup and intellectual capabilities of their brain.

Any parent knows that sometimes a child’s curiosity and enthusiasm are a test to our patience. They touch dirty things. They examine strangers in church. They scream for toys in a toy store. Or they want to stay awake when we’re exhausted. Annoyed, we sometimes snap at them, threaten them, or punish them. In the old times, parents would actually hit them with a stick!

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish are internationally recognized experts on communication between adults and children. They wrote a book entitled "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Would Talk". 

The authors counseled that when we punish a child, we encourage them to feel bitterness toward us. This would make them less likely to listen to us in the future.

What we can do is acknowledge their feelings. If we don’t know exactly what they want, let’s ask. Then we can explain why we have to do what we have to do. The goal is to come to a mutual agreement.

When the child is old enough, Faber and Mazlish advised that we must encourage a child’s autonomy. For example, we can let them figure out how they will divide their time between play and homework.

They said that every child deserves a chance to discover answers for themselves. They may make wrong decisions and it will stress us out. But that’s how they grow to be better persons. So, we must have tolerance and courage.

The Christmas break is a good time to think about how we deal with our children. Then again, let’s just bond with them, make memories that make happy amygdalas!


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About the Author:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.