(Not sure if this should be on the Biology.SE or even the Psychology.SE)

Someone I know is currently in the process of getting a divorce, because (or so they tell me) they have a baby who's distressed by one parent. The baby, who is less than a year old, is "immensely distressed" by the offending parent's presence, and takes several days to stop being distressed. The other parent moved out of the house and is seeking to limit the offending parent's access to the child, leading to arguments and a divorce.

I have several questions about this:

  • Are there any long-term effects if the baby is distressed at this stage of life? After all, the baby is less than a year old, and nobody can remember anything when they were that young. Given that there are no memories of this period, can what happens still affect the baby's later well-being?
  • If yes, at what age does the baby becoming distressed by one parent start becoming a problem?
  • If no, at what age do long-term effects start to manifest?

From my Googling it seems memories don't begin until about 2 years old, but I cannot find resources on whether this implies one can reasonably ignore the baby being distressed by one parent in the first two years after birth. Intuitively I would guess that if the cause of distress is material, e.g. heat or hunger, then it could have some subconscious impact later in life (does it?), but I do not know about a person's presence.

Update: apparently the two parents approached a child psychologist, who doesn't know what is causing the crying either.

Update 2: the baby cries if and only if one of the parent is present. If the parent is present the baby starts crying. If the parent leaves, she takes a while (~5 minutes) to stop crying. [I know I did write above that the baby takes several days to stop being distressed. It could be that the baby remains distressed, just less severely, until that time.] The phenomenon is reproducible, and the baby is distressed enough that it is beyond comfort as long as the offending parent is present or even if the baby knows the parent is somewhere nearby.

A different child psychologist diagnosed the problem as "Relationship Specific Disorder of Infancy", which appears to be a new condition in the medical literature; in fact it seems to only have been described in 2016. As far as I know, the parents are attempting to treat the condition.

I do not, however, think the specifics of the condition are relevant to this question.

  • 2
    I voted to close this as likely to elicit opinion rather than evidence. While most permanent memories start forming in early childhood, that doesn't mean significant stressors (for whatever reason) in babies has no significant effect on later life. The reason probably lies in epigenetic modification of DNA. Several experiments in mice show that a fear of the scent of cherry blossoms can be passed on to offspring (!), so it is reasonable that fear in infancy can have ramifications later in life.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 12, 2021 at 16:59
  • This might be a good question for Psychology & Neuroscience.SE.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 12, 2021 at 17:00
  • Even if they do not form memories, that's all the more reason to attend to their wellbeing in the moment. If memories don't exist, there's just the present. If the present is distressing, then there's only distress. Infants, like dementia patients who also don't make memories, can still have good or bad experiences, good or bad lives. If you're the other parent, I'd dial back the "I can't find evidence online that the baby will remember this anyway". I'd assume the divorce is rooted not the initial crying baby but in the ensuing conflict.
    – dxh
    Mar 14, 2021 at 19:21
  • 1
    A very important piece of information is missing from your question, that is, why is the child so distressed by the presence of this other parent? The child's "immense" distress should not be ignored. Since this question also mentions separation, it seems to me that there may be something far more sinister involved here. It's interesting you use the word "offending" parent. It makes me wonder what "offence" has this parent actually committed? Mar 15, 2021 at 8:07
  • 1
    Voting to close as this is too vague. "Distressed" is to vague a term and there's no explanation of what is (or might be) causing the distress. A baby crying when a certain person is around could have any number of causes, ranging from the baby not liking the smell of their cologne/perfume to the baby being legitimately fearful due to abuse, or anywhere in between.
    – Kevin
    Mar 17, 2021 at 21:08

1 Answer 1


A quick google on "long term impacts of child abuse" returns a very large amount of information which makes for heartbreaking reading.

An excert from one particular link I found ... https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-adult-survivors

Other factors that may affect the consequences of child abuse and neglect on adult survivors include:

  • the age and developmental stage at which maltreatment occurred: some evidence suggests that the younger the child was at the time of the onset of the maltreatment, the more likely they are to experience problems later in life;

This would suggest that not only is it not a mitigating factor, the very young age of the child in question may actually make it worse.

Regardless of whether the abuse is actually remembered, it seems clear that it would have a severe impact on the child while the abuse is occuring, which in turn would impact the way the child learns about the world, and the people around them.

It's well understood that the early years of a childs life are the most crucial for brain development...


Recent research confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of the child's brain, and the first three years are the most critical in shaping the child's brain architecture. Early experiences provide the base for the brain's organizational development and functioning throughout life. They have a direct impact on how children develop learning skills as well as social and emotional abilities.

If during these formitive years, instead of learning that the people around her will protect, love and nurture her, she learns that these people will hurt and abuse her. How must this impact her understanding of human relationships. It's not hard at all to imagine why this would have a devastating impact on her future life, and indeed copious amounts of research backs this up.

If you suspect this child is being abused, then I'd urge you to contact the relevant authorities. Child abuse is a very serious problem, and it's everyone's responsibility to try to combat it.

  • It's probable the child wasn't being abused (and certainly isn't being abused right now) since otherwise the other parent would've taken steps to protect the child. Plus, since the other parent moved out with the child, they can't be being abused right now.
    – Allure
    Mar 15, 2021 at 21:35
  • @Allure I certainly hope that's the case. I just can't think why else the child would exhibit immsense distress when that parent is around. Toddlers often favour one parent over the other, but there's quite a difference between a bit of fussing, and actual extreme distress. Toddlers are often very frightended of strangers, but to be very fearful of a person with whom they're familiar, is cause for concern. Mar 16, 2021 at 3:20
  • @Allure Sometimes the other parent may not even be aware of what might be happening when she's not around. Mar 16, 2021 at 3:31
  • 5
    Without a credible link between the child's distress and any alleged child abuse causing it, I feel that this answer is slightly too speculative, on a topic where false accusations can have devastating consequences. I'd suggest either adding a link to support the claim, or a clear mention that the jump to child abuse is a speculative one.
    – Flater
    Mar 21, 2021 at 1:49
  • @user1751825 you might be interested in the update in the question.
    – Allure
    Sep 6, 2021 at 13:00

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