Remember the last time you laughed so hard that others around you couldn’t help but laugh too? You start laughing at a joke or funny movie scene, and before you know it, the laughter has spread throughout the house, even to those not in the same room. It seems like the laughter is contagious.

Well, it kind of is. This simple example exemplifies a fascinating feature of the human brain—it can synchronize with others’ brains. 

This emotional synchrony is crucial to how humans bond and interact with others. When we say that humans are wired to be social, this is one key aspect of that idea. These moments of synchrony are important for bonding with others ⏤ spouses, friends, and family members. 

In addition to bonding, the ability to synchronize emotionally with others is good for human culture. The experience of being “in sync” with another person helps us feel what they feel and, to a certain degree, think what they think. This ability, of course, is the basis for empathy. Without some degree of synchrony and corresponding empathy, our social fabric would quickly fall apart.

This means it’s in our children’s best interest to help them experience moments of synchrony as well. This emotional experience will only aid their cognitive and emotional development as their brains become more adept at tuning in to other people’s emotions. As with most aspects of child development, such foundational experiences begin at home. New research is showing how parents and children can get “in sync” more so that children’s emotional skills can grow.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this research is the fact that synchrony develops through simple, ordinary interactions between parents and children. However, the details really matter. Interactions between children and parents that are focused on activities, such as solving puzzles together, playing games, or talking with one another, nurture emotional synchrony. One key aspect of this interaction, however, was turn-taking. Parents who took turns with children during these activities tended to have stronger synchrony with their children than those who did not take turns. Similarly, the specific role that parents played mattered too. For example, stronger synchrony occurred when children had some autonomy in the interaction and were not just being led by the parents. In other words, when parents allowed children to lead the play a bit more, synchrony happened more easily. This means that a hovering, intrusive parenting style doesn’t foster synchrony as well.

We’re wired for communication. Nothing shows this more clearly than our brain’s ability to emotionally “sync” with other people’s brains. With a little intentional parenting, your child can experience the synchrony required to develop strong emotional abilities.

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development, to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.


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