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Mom's Voice Has Healing Power, Says Study (Whether We're Young Or Old)

By Danielle Sullivan |

mother's voice cortisol, moms voice soothes children, call mom relieve stress, moms daughters, mom child connection

It's something we've always known- nothing replaces a mom's love and encouragement.

My mother worked a lot when I was growing up. As a single parent of two small children, she often took on extra shifts as a nurse just to keep food on the table. Everyday when I got home from school, one of the first things I would do was call my mother at work. Never once was she unhappy to hear from me and the only time she did not come to the phone right away was when she was with a critical patient. When I had especially exciting news, I couldn’t wait to call to tell her because it felt like it didn’t really happen unless I shared the news with her. That relationship has lasted into my adulthood and she’s still the first person I call when something great (or terrible) happens in my life.

So it made total sense to me both as a mother and a daughter when, back in 2010, “researchers found in 2010 that young girls who talked to their mothers experienced a drop in the stress hormone cortisol.” According to the study, the girls’ brains released a burst of oxytocin upon hearing their mothers voice.

But why, exactly does this happen? Was it that we are used to our mother’s tone, does she always say just the thing we needed to hear or is it more about the scientific pitch and tone of her voice? Psychologist Leslie Seltzer from the University of Wisconsin (who was also involved in the study from 2010) wanted to know. So she had 64 girls, ages 7-12, take a difficult math test. The girls were divided into four groups: “One group spoke to their mothers on the phone, some talked in person, others chatted via instant message, and the final group didn’t communicate with their moms at all.” The girls who were able to speak to their mothers in person or on the phone experienced a decrease in cortisol levels and a spike in oxytocin levels. The text messages were less effective.

Seltzer thinks we are not only “fine-tuned to respond to our moms’ vocal intonations” but mothers have a the unique ability to detect anxiety in their child’s voice, so therefore can reassure them without them having to verbally say they’re scared or worried.

We’ve all heard the studies of how premature babies are soothed by their mother’s voice but it’s rarely stressed how effective a simple call to our mothers can be in lessening our own anxiety, or even how much we need to continue talking to our own kids as they grow older to help them in the same way.

I am seeing this with my own girls. Now teens, I realize how far an encouraging word, whether it’s directed to a chemistry test, a heartbreak or an illness can go. Often I find myself telling one of my girls that everything will be fine, that they shouldn’t worry, and walk them through their current situation. I am often shocked at how quickly it works. It’s not even that I am telling them the right answer or giving the perfect advice. On the contrary, the single biggest thing I do is simply listen and then try to help them realize what they already think or how they want to proceed.

It’s not always easy, actually sometimes it’s really hard and frustrating to stay cool in the midst of a teen breakdown, but I know how important it is for them to understand that they can completely work out their dilemmas through some self reflection, so while I listen, I don’t dictate. It’s something I’m learning as they grow older.

Study or no study, I know this is true because I fully realize how vital it is to still lean on my own mother at times.

How often do you speak to your mom? Do you still share exciting news with her as soon as it happens? Do you lean on her for parenting advice?

Image: Stockxchng


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About Danielle Sullivan


Danielle Sullivan

Danielle Sullivan writes for Babble Pets. She is also an award-winning parenting writer, who authors a monthly column for NY Parenting and ASPCA Parents blog. You can read more of her work at her blog,Some Puppy To Love. Read bio and latest posts → Read Danielle's latest posts →

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5 thoughts on “Mom's Voice Has Healing Power, Says Study (Whether We're Young Or Old)

  1. Val Payne says:

    Talking to my mother causes an extreme rise of cortisol, I hope the same is not true for my daughter. But yayfor those with healthy relationships with their mothers!

  2. Danielle Sullivan says:

    @Val Sorry to hear that but I do understand and have friends who feel the exact same way.

  3. Noreen Ryan says:

    Sadly I never know which mother I will get when I talk to her. She tends to go off on tangents and am quite sure her hearing, etc. has been bad for years. She can get angry about things that don’t seem important, you never know. It makes me sad I don’t have that great relationship that the Danielle seems to have. My mom grew up without a mother, her mom died when she was only 5 and she was treated poorly by her dad. It think I grew up with a mom who didn’t know how to talk to and nurture her children because she had no reference point. I am working on breaking that cycle with my own kids who are 3 & 5.

  4. Julianne says:

    I can totally believe this study, I talked to my mom everyday at least once a day and all the craziness that seemed to go on in the world seemed a little more easily handled after I would talk to her. The past year an a half has been the most stressful of my life since she passed, having my son only two months after she died was terrifying and all I wanted was to call her to hear that everything would be fine and not to worry about him being in the NICU. Even now I still wish I could call her up and even just listen to her complain about work or tell me that the baby will grow out of this odd phase or that but she’s not there. Often I find myself envying my female friends who still have their mothers around because nothing brings better stress relief than an encouraging word from you mom.

  5. Danielle Sullivan says:

    @Noreen I commend you on breaking the cycle, and I can imagine how hard it must be. I have people very close to me who have also managed to do this and I am so proud of them. I also know moms on the other side of it who would have loved to be that loving mother but simply didn’t know how. It’s entirely possible your mom wants to do the same, but like you said just doesn’t have the tools. I know it’s a stretch because I don’t know her or you, but it just might be the case. Some people feel funny expressing love when they’ve never had it themselves. Thank you for commenting.
    @Julianne I’m so sorry you lost your mom at such a pivotal time in your life. I’m a big believer in the idea that our loved ones stay with us even after they’re gone and I’m sure your mom is looking down on you. I had a similar experience with my uncle (who raised me), feeling he was missing everything that happened to me and my kids, but I keep his photos everywhere and I still do “talk” him every now and then.

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