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Why Love Matters: A Book Review

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Started by Glenda Albon 02 Sep 2011 10:26am () Replies (1)

Why Love Matters.              Sue Gerdhart (2004). Author



Lately as I have become involved with opportunities to facilitate learning experiences for teaching teams I have been reflecting on the critical role that relationships play in the lives and experiences for children, and in the formation of children’s brain development processes.

These reflections have led me to consider the research I have explored over the last couple of years in relation to Infant and Toddler Mental Health.  Many of the research findings I have explored associate connections between emotional responses, reactions, attitudes and behaviours of individuals throughout their life, directly with experiences within relationships that children had in their early years. Eliot,L(2000), Gerdhart,S(2004), McCain,M,N. Mustard,F. & Shanker,S. (2007), Perry,BD(2004), Perry,BD & Szalavitz,M (2006).

This research describes how neuroscientists have shown that the development of brain connections and their relevant chemical/hormonal responses are formed in the early months and years of a child’s development, which then create the foundations for future reactions and responses throughout the life of the child. Additionally the models of behaviour and the abilities of the parents to respond to and nurture children’s brain development have significant impacts on how their child’s brain develops. This research clearly links a child’s ability to develop and in turn regulate their own emotions, with the early relationships they form with their parents/ caregivers. In cases where parents themselves have had negative learning and relationship experiences this is reflected in how they are able to, (or not) draw on these skills as they raise their own children.

To support my thinking I re-read one of my favourite discussion books:            

Why Love Matters, written by Sue Gerdhart(2004).

In this book Gerdhart describes the significance that love and affection has within the earliest relationships for children. She sets out to demonstrate how these relationships impact on brain development, the formation of emotions of the child and their continuing ability to self-regulate these emotions.

Some of the descriptions are scientific and potentially complex, yet Gerdhart manages to explain how many of the innately dynamic hormonal and chemical responses work in conjunction with each other. In support of these understandings she portrays some specific examples and describes a range of circumstances where these biochemical systems affect the long-term ability of the brain’s responses to future incidents, events or happenings. Continuing on from this Gerdhart clarifies how the body’s natural stress responses can have long lasting affects on the regulation of emotions, identity and overall mental health of a child, and then as an adult.

The major implications from this data is that love and affection, the adult’s ability to ‘read’ babies cues and respond appropriately to these signals, are the KEYS to success of these developmental processes. Where babies know and trust that their needs will be met, their brain responses and relevant neural connections are constructed and we can be ensured that positive outcomes will be formed.  

I consider that the message we can take from the research data along with Gerdhart’s findings is that by ensuring that a strong foundation for trust in relationships, development of emotional responses, and the ability to self regulate emotions is put in place during these early years then there is a better ‘platform’ to build the future on.

I encourage anyone who is interested in exploring these concepts further to take a look at this book, and to consider the implications of our teaching practices, relationships and interactions with the children, their families/whanau and teaching colleagues who we currently work with.  

 You can purchase a copy of this book here

What can we as teachers do to support positive outcomes for all children?


In your own Early Childhood Centres what are some of the ways that you respond to children’s cues?

How do you know if Infants and Toddlers, and Young Children in your care, know you and trust that their needs will be met?



Eliot, L. (2000). What’s going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life. New York: Bantam. p10

Gerhardt, S. (2004). Why love matters: how affection shapes a baby’s brain.  New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge

McCain, M.N., Mustard, F., & Shanker, S. (2007). The long reach of early childhood. In M.N. McCain, F. Mustard & S. Shanker (Eds.). Early years study 2. Putting science into action (pp.17-58). Toronto Canada: Council for Early Child Development. p46-47.

Perry, B.D. (2002). Childhood Experience and the expression of Genetic Potential: What childhood neglect tells us about Nature and Nurture.  Brain and Mind (3), p 79-100. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Perry, B.D., & Szalavitz, M. (2006). The Boy who was raised as a dog: and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook: What traumatised children can teach us about loss, love, and healing. Philadelphia, PA: Perseus Books.


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