The release of oxytocin is not automatic but rather, a learned response. It is essential for children to develop an effective oxytocin response. We find that when children are abused or neglected, they often have underdeveloped oxytocin responses. This is because they have been locked in the fight or flight response and have not developed the oxytocin response to calm down. Therefore, bonding is critical to children in the early years of life.
This bonding that significantly comes through the parent-child relationship can also be nurtured through positive interactions with adults such as teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with them regularly. Since oxytocin is an anti-stress chemical, children who feel love and trust with important adults in their lives are better able to cope with stress and are more open. These positive feelings also contribute to a more positive self-image and increased empathy. This creates an upward spiral of positive social relationships.
Now that we understand the neuroscience surrounding oxytocin, how can we, as parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with children, use this information? We must create a learning environment that is safe and increases the child’s “social satisfaction.”
Our martial arts program does this by teaching with the brain in mind and utilizing game-based learning. Along with this, two of the teaching skills that are used in class are specifically designed to improve the students’ oxytocin response system by increasing their social skills and empathy.