- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

When babies cry in America today, it's normal for someone to rush to their side, gather them up and try to ease their slightest discomfort.
That was not the case 100 years ago, when child care experts warned American parents not to kiss, cuddle or play with their young children, lest they ruin them.
"When you are tempted to pet your child, remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument," warned John B. Watson, a national authority on behavioral science who became head of the American Psychological Association in 1915.
The Watson approach was undone in the 1950s, thanks in part to experiments with baby monkeys performed by Wisconsin psychologist Harry Harlow.
Modern parents may know that hugging a child is important, but "science was way slow at getting this right," said Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has written about Mr. Harlow's influential experiments in a new book, "Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection."
"Goon Park" refers to the often-mangled mailing address of Mr. Harlow's psychology department at 600 N. Park, at the University of Wisconsin.
Rarely is love or affection studied as a quality to be measured, but human development research suggests that the lack of loving, physical contact may lead to physical illness.
And the basic message of Harry Harlow that babies and children need to be touched seems not to have reached every part of the world yet. Orphanages still abound with children who are so starved for affection they become "neurologically scrambled," says Harriet McCarthy, a North Carolina adoptive mother who, with her husband, is raising three boys from overseas institutions.
In early 1900s America, lovey-dovey parent-child activities were strongly discouraged.
Mr. Watson, in concert with leading child-care experts, advised parents to raise their children deliberately conditioning and training them to give desirable responses to the right stimuli, similar to the technique used with Ivan Pavlov's famous dogs.
If babies are picked up when they cry, they will cry more, said Mr. Watson. He advised parents not to hold their offspring for pleasure, nor play with them.
For 50 years, parenting experts extolled these beliefs as scientific and enlightened, and many of this generation's great-grandparents and grandparents abided by them, said Mrs. Blum. She teaches journalism at the University of Wisconsin and won her Pulitzer in 1992 for stories about primate experiments and ethics.
Women especially wanted to rear their children properly, she wrote, noting that Alice Birney, president of the Congress of Mothers in 1899, proudly declared that, now that science has explained child care, "the era of the amateur mother is over."
But more than a few mothers agonized over the professionals' rules. A colleague "told me that his mother still talks about him sobbing in his crib, but she wouldn't pick him up even though she wanted to because the experts said she would ruin her child," Mrs. Blum said.
This era of sanitized, orderly parenting was finally toppled in the late 1950s, when Mr. Harlow reported the results of his experiments with baby monkeys and lab-built "mothers" one made with cloth and another made of wire but with a nipple for milk.
If babies are attached to mothers primarily for food, then baby monkeys should prefer the wire mother over the "barren" cloth one, Mr. Harlow reasoned.
Instead, the baby monkeys clung to their cloth mothers, seeking the wire mother only long enough to get food.
These experiments showed that mother love was crucial "babies need to be held and they need to cuddle and touch mothers," said Mrs. Blum.
Mr. Harlow took his research both to colleagues and America's families, through the burgeoning television network.
His work, in tandem with breakthrough research by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and his colleague Mary Salter Ainsworth, "revolutionized developmental psychology," said Cynthia Hazan, associate professor of human development at Cornell University.
Mr. Harlow's work dovetailed with Mr. Bowlby's research on war orphans, she said, which found that children can do well, emotionally and socially, "if they have a warm, continuous relationship with at least one person."
Today, a new frontier in the science of affection is "understanding the physiological and neurological underpinnings of these bonds," Ms. Hazan said.
There is research, for instance, that shows social losses affect the immune system. When married couples divorce, they seem to become more susceptible to sickness, she said. "So we're moving in the direction of trying to understand the physical foundations of attachment."
There's also research into "verbal" touching, said child and family psychologist Barry G. Ginsberg, founder of the Center for Relationship Enhancement in Doylestown, Pa.
Verbal touching refers to the empathetic communication parents can give to children who are upset, said Mr. Ginsberg.
If the parents can calmly convey their understanding of the children's emotional experiences, the children can feel security and respect, and work to gain self-control. "Discipline is self-regulated. It's not something parents impose on children," Mr. Ginsberg said.
To Mrs. McCarthy, the adoptive mother of three boys from Russia, there's still plenty of work to do in spreading the message that babies and young children need a loving touch.
Her sons, who spent most of their young childhood in an orphanage, were all developmentally delayed and fearful of new things, said Mrs. McCarthy, who is part of the Eastern European Adoption Coalition.
Sergei, at 5, had severe language delays plus sensory-integration disorder, which meant he couldn't quite regulate his senses or body movements. For weeks, this little boy ran until he crashed into walls, walked into trees or fell down on sidewalks, said Mrs. McCarthy, who lives in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Patience, therapy, massage, "practice hugs" and time have helped Sergei reintegrate his senses, she said. "Today we have a youngster who swims like a fish, rides a two-wheeler, plays soccer, golf and can hit a baseball like a pro."
Still, it's infinitely better if orphanages can provide enough caregivers so children can get the touch they absolutely need, she said.
"It's hard to put broken people back together again, and in some cases, the shards are so sharp, they don't want to go back together again," she said. "Children have got to be touched more, picked up more, bounced on knees, giggled to and coochie-coochie-cooed. There's a reason for all that."


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