The ancient proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”, may have its roots firmly in Africa, but it holds true for children being raised worldwide. In fact, research published earlier this year in Pediatrics has found that when new parents (and in particular mothers) have a strong social network of friends to support them, their toddlers score higher on cognitive tests. Yes, that’s right, your friends can make your baby brainy.
The study, out of the University of Tennessee Health Center in the US, looked at over 1 000 mothers and children. Titled “Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning and Early Childhood Project”, it looked at family structures, friendships and relationships of the groups, and babies were given cognitive testing at the age of two.
The researchers found women have, on average, 3.5 friends in their social network. Mothers with more close friends had toddlers with higher cognitive scores compared to those women with fewer friends.
The results revealed that those mothers with larger social networks tend to have more resources to draw on. Good friends provide emotional support, physical support (such as babysitting) and the sharing of knowledge. A community is created, and mothers don’t feel they are alone.
Importantly, by having a larger pool of resources, parental stress was lessened, and maternal health improved – both elements are associated with higher levels of cognitive development in your offspring.
Intelligence is linked to your general ability to process information, which in turn promotes learning, understanding, reasoning and problem-solving.
And while heredity does impact intelligence, there is no denying the importance of environmental factors, as this study reveals.
The benefits of your village:
- Parenting is hard. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think are or how many books you read, you still question (sometimes daily) if you are doing the right thing. Your village of friends is there (as you are for them) to provide support. If illness strikes, the blues get too much, or simply to help give you a break – friends are there.
- Friends bring new skills and talents. A social network of involved adults opens children up to a wider range of opinions and interests. Not only do your children learn new skills and participate in different activities, but they are open to a wider range of viewpoints.
- Friends bring new ideas and thoughts. Having a strong social network means you can brainstorm solutions and find new approaches to all facets of childcare, from the books you read to potty training solutions, how to get a (better) night’s sleep, the best clothes to dress your newborn in, or options on daycare.
- Your friends love your kids. And more importantly, your kids can feel that. They thrive under this love and attention that comes not just from you and your immediate family, but extended family and friends as well. Plus, watching that adorably tender moment with your husband’s rugby mate cuddling your baby is good for your heart and soul, too.
- Your kids have a support system. As important as it is for you to support your child, it’s even better when they have a whole cheerleading squad of friends and family. Plus, you will not always get on, and sometimes having another close adult around your kid can confide in can be of benefit to you all.
- A strong sense of community creates strong kids. Family and friends create a sense of belonging and a connection. Sharing stories of your past and that of your friends and family, help children to realise that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
- Your child loves unconditionally. As much benefit as you (and your children) get from your social network, this goes both ways. That smile of joy, those little arms wrapped tightly around a neck, the whispered words of love in that tiny lisping voice can really turn a bad day into a good one. And there is enough of this unconditional love to share.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.