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The importance of healthy parent-child relationships

08 June 2018 Blog
Mental health Perinatal mental health
St John of God Raphael Services WA Clinical Lead Psychiatrist Dr Leanne Priestly explains there are a number of factors that can disrupt early relationships between a parent and their new baby, including trauma and loss, social and cultural connectedness, and substance use.

It's important to understand the potential impact these disrupters can have on the parent-child relationship and what can be done to promote positive outcomes.

What is a healthy parent-child relationship?

In a healthy parent-child relationship, the parent is tuned into and able to meet their child’s needs.

An infant feels secure and loved, learns to trust that their needs will be met and is therefore more likely to develop secure attachment with their parent.

Early emotional experiences are important

There is increasing evidence that early emotional experiences, particularly within the parent-child relationship, have an important impact on brain development and provide a blueprint for how children develop relationships throughout the rest of their life.

Healthy parent-child relationships in the early year’s leads to older children and adults who are more likely to form healthy relationships, regulate their emotions effectively, manage stress, be more capable of problem solving and have higher self-esteem.

They are also less likely to use alcohol and other drugs as coping strategies. 

Trauma can have a big impact

Trauma can influence a parent-child relationship in a number of ways.

If there is trauma in a parent’s history this can lead to emotional difficulties which can, in turn, make it challenging for them to maintain a safe, secure environment for their infant.

Trauma may also lead to substance use, which can impact a parent’s ability to meet their infant’s needs and lead to emotional difficulties that effect their ability to maintain a safe, secure emotional environment for their infant.

Making more people aware of the links

By improving public awareness of the influence trauma and substance use can have on the development of healthy parent-child relationships, positive outcomes can be achieved.

Primary health clinicians should be educated to identify potential risk factors when the parent-child relationship is disrupted and be equipped with information that enables them to provide referral pathways to specialist services.

It is also critical that a commitment to resourcing perinatal and infant mental health and specialist alcohol and drug services is maintained.

Leanne Priestly - Psychiatrist
Dr Leanne Priestly is a specialist perinatal psychiatrist, and is the clinical lead at Raphael Services Western Australia. Additionally she has a private practice at the Elizabeth Clinic.

Dr Priestly has been a fellow of the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists since 2012. She has a special interest in the area of attachment-based practice. This interest developed from her work in London, notably in the mentalisation based therapeutic model. It has been extended through her training in the Adult Attachment Interview, Circle of Security and because she is a mum of two young children.