The importance of unconditional love and acceptance

6 Nov

Brain development research is increasingly exposing the gaps in the teaching environments of students. I have previously commented on the frustration experienced by neuroscientists because of the seemingly uninterested reactions that come from teachers and parents.  To convince teachers about the research and to evoke their cooperation is not easy. Maybe some of the blame should be placed on teacher training institutions, where very little time is dedicated to the important subject of brain development. In addition to this, only a few medical faculties  – where brain research primarily takes place – reach out to schools and teachers. Johns Hopkins Medical University is one of the training institutions that actively promotes contact with schools and teachers.

The design of a learning environment that incorporates the current knowledge on brain development, will have to address the emotional and social climate in the classroom. In a previous blog we looked at the effect of stress on learners. In the light of the potential damage that could unwittingly be inflicted on learners’ self confidence, as well as their ability to learn and to give attention, it is important that we look at this aspect again. This time I will focus specifically on how stress impairs the acquisition of important skills.

Mariale Hardiman, from the Johns Hopkins School of Education, says that creativity and creative problem solving skills are some of the most important aspects that should be specifically taught in all subject areas.  Sir Ken Robinson, a leading author on creativity and education, agrees with Hardiman. He feels so strongly about the teaching of creativity that he links this to learners’ ability to function successfully in a future world where resilience, creative thinking, group skills and problem solving skills will be the primary abilities employers will look for. This future that Robinson refers to, is not the future of the next generation. This future is now. The group of people who lost their jobs with the USA economic slump, discovered this reality. In a short period of three years their jobs disappeared.

Schmidt and Schwabe (in Scientific American) very clearly found with their research that it is exactly the development of the abovementioned skills that are undermined by stress experienced by learners. It is not always schools that are the primary stress-inducing agents. Parents that start their children on formal prescriptive programmes like Kumon, teach their babies to read and play ‘educational’ DVDs (that are supposed to make children clever) are all placing stress on young children.

What do young children feel? Very few people stop to think about the effect of all of these “clever” operations on children. David Elkind says that the only thing children really want to know, is that they are the most important people in their parents’ world. Reacting to this, parents usually reply loudly: “Yes, but that is exactly why we do it!”. Unfortunately, this is not the message that children experience. They perceive that their parents’ love is conditional. I am loved if I perform. The problem is thus that children’s perceptions become their reality. A long term reality.

All young children have the potential to be brilliant, but with enough stressors in their lives, they could experience themselves as being failures. Often, this stress is a consequence of the conditional message received from loving, demanding parents or teachers. We should focus on creating a learning environment (both at home and in school) where the acquiring of important future skills is not hampered by unnecessary stressors in children’s life.


Elkind, D. 2001. The hurried child: Growing up too fast, too soon.

Hardiman, M. M. 2009. The Creative-Artistic Brain. In: Mind, Brain and Education: Neuroscience Implications for the classroom.

Robinson, K. 2001. Out of our Minds: Learning to be creative.

Schmidt, M. V. & Schwabe, L.:  September/October 2011. Splintered by Stress. In: Scientific American Mind.

Picture: Woodleywonderworks – Flickr


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