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Source: Charles Smith, 785-532-1946, casmith@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Greg Tammen, 785-532-2535, gtammen@k-state.edu

Friday, May 6, 2011


MANHATTAN -- It's little wonder that a child gravitates toward the mother, says Chuck Smith, a Kansas State University child development expert. After all, mothers represent a child's bond to the world and the understanding of it.

"A mother has a different relationship with her kids than a father, and I think a lot of that is based on biological connection," Smith said. "We don't fully understand the power of that connection."

According to Smith, children recognize and experience that connection with their mother through the feelings and the emotions they associate with her.

A good example illustrating this mother-child connection is if a child scrapes a knee. Provided both parents are still together, in general the injured child is going to run to their mother rather than their father for comfort and a Band-Aid, Smith said.

"Not to be sexist or dismiss a father's love and caring, but when looking at this situation through a child's point of view, mom's going to be the one to make you feel better because she's going to love and hold you and maybe even feel a little bit of that hurt with you," he said.

While parents' roles can be reversed, more often than not, children are going to view dad as a knight in shining armor who will keep them safe and chase away fears, while mom is the primary source for comfort and care.

As a child grows and matures, the mother -- whether biological or a stepmother -- plays an important role in her child's development, character and attitudes, Smith said.

"She teaches her son how to be good to a woman by way of her relationship with the father. She's very important in teaching her son respect and about the importance of love and affection," Smith said. "For young girls, she's very important in serving as a model for when her daughter grows up and one day becomes a woman like her.

Children are aware of emotions before they can talk about them, and because a mother plays a significant part in her child's life, Smith said it's important for a mother to talk about how she feels in words her child can understand.

"For example, if a mother is showing physical signs of sadness and she tells the child that 'nothing is wrong' when asked what's the matter, the child knows from looking at her face -- her smile and her eyes -- that's not true," Smith said. "So knowing that the mother is sad, the child will try to connect the dots in ways that are untrue, and they'll blame themselves and try to figure out what they did to make mommy sad."

While being a mother is stressful, especially for the first time, by being a strong and loving authority figure in the early years of a child's life, Smith said it will help ensure a respectful relationship is in place as the child grows and that relationship changes.

"We have phrases like Mother Earth and Father Sky, and there's a reason for them to be a part of mythology," Smith said. "The Earth is bountiful and provides for us. All of those wonderful thoughts about motherhood are associated with the Earth. That bond, that connection that children have with their mothers is something I don't think they ever lose."


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