GREAT NEWS!! Eight years ago this web page and my book ‘Happiness – Who wants it’, in which I covered the latest neuroscientific and psychotherapy developments regarding infant and child development, came into being. The intention was that if these developments were applied they would likely lead to a more secure, self esteemed child when they grew up. A few days ago I discovered that now in the UK, if you want to have a hope in adopting a child, you will have to do an extended course on the topics I covered in my book. (Bits of which are covered on this website.)
How your parents responded to you when you were young made you who you are today. You were not born that way!
Perhaps, if your parents had known then what we now know about what goes on in an infant’s brain, based on the latest neurobiological data, your life would be very different than it is now.
Most Moms want to do the best for their babies. Unfortunately parenting may come naturally but it doesn’t necessarily come correctly. Added to this can be the problem of the Mom’s emotions – sadness, anger, depression can spill into the child’s world and affect them adversely.
But there is a far more insidious problem that is affecting children today and that has to do with, because of the digital age and the pressure on parents to provide a roof over the child’s head, the loss of attachment to the parent. Parents are being replaced by the child’s peers – so you have immature children bringing up immature children. The consequence of this, combined with the above, is reflected in a massive increase in anti-psychotic medication being given out to children under the age of 18 for behavioural problems, ADD, depression etc. For example, in Canada in 2007 seven hundred and seventy thousand children were on medication and by 2011 this figure had increased to One million three hundred thousand – almost 100%! *
Many mothers take any suggestions that might improve their mothering abilities as a personal attack on their capabilities instead of accepting that education is the key to understanding infants and understanding themselves. Our intention is to assist in this process, which is why we have written ‘Happiness – Who Wants It’. (Click on the BOOK tab above)
The following video has had over half a million hits so for those who want to do the best for their infants and children and understand some of the reasons why you might behave the way you do, watch the 12 minute video below to help you understand this more. (Just click on the screen below.)
However it may be an idea to click on the Infants page either before or after you watch the DVD and read the article entitled Informed Choices for more information as some mothers have taken the video as a personal attack rather than something that can help future generations.
[Want more? Click on the EDUCATIONAL VIDEO tab above for videos on Understanding Relationships. The other video is Understanding (a little bit more about) Love]
I probably speak to five or so parents a month about their child or teenager who is out of control, is depressed, over anxious or is self harming. Unfortunately in many cases the damage was done in infanthood or early childhood and the child or teenager now needs counselling. Sometimes these cases exist because they treated their infants in ways described in the video you have just watched but in many cases it was because the parents believed that parenting came naturally and figured they would do just what came naturally. Unfortunately parenting may come naturally but that doesn’t mean it comes correctly. There is the problem of big, out of control, negative emotions that many parents have in the company of their child, which the child doesn’t understand, but is likely to impact on them. And while they love their infants or kids, the infants or kids don’t get the love they need – they get the love the parents think they need to give them, which can make all the difference between growing to become a well rounded human being or someone with ‘issues’.
I would like to mention something that can make a HUGE difference to a child’s wellbeing. In my view the biggest mistake parents make is in their communication with a child or infant. Thanks to neuroscience we now know a lot more about a child’s brain and how it develops. Infant’s brains only come ‘on line’ around about three so there is no way they can make sense of what is happening around them before then. They rely on the cues of their parents to help them handle their anxieties. They get a fright, cry out in alarm and simultaneously check to see the reaction of their parent. If the parent is in bits then it is time for a major panic. If, though, they see the parent is unperturbed and calm they start to settle down. What so many parents don’t do while they comfort their child is tell the child just what happened that upset them. For example: ‘you got a big fright when the doggie went woof’ or ‘I can see you are really angry because mommy had to warm your bottle and kept you waiting’. While the infant is not understanding the words, at some level of consciousness it is being registered and being made sense of along with the comforting demeanour of the parent.
It’s so important that we understand that from the moment we are born there is a haphazard mass of energy called emotion that is all over the place and that we need to make sense of it, especially when those emotions/feelings are overwhelming. As infants we can’t self regulate and our parents need to do that regulating for us by being attuned to our needs at that moment. (Look at how frustrating it is to us when as adults we don’t feel understood).
While there will never be perfect parenting if parents bother to find out what we now know about infants and how their brains develop we are likely to do a much better job.
Click on book for more info
Here are a couple more examples of how parents can help their children: Eight year old Ann comes running into the kitchen where her mom is cooking. Sobbing, she says ‘Mommy, Helen (aged 11) says that I can’t play with them because I am too young’. Mother has two choices, she can either say, ‘you must be feeling hurt and rejected by what Helen’s said – let me give you a cuddle’ OR she could say ‘oh you’re a big girl now, you don’t need to cry – here have a cookie’. What would you like to hear? The first I am sure, as you now know you feel understood. To not have those big feelings acknowledged causes them to be buried and with constant denial of them over time may affect one’s mental health later in life. Another example would be a Dad who has just told his angry son that he cannot go out until he has done his homework, ‘I can understand you are angry but we made an agreement about homework and agreements in this family stick’ as opposed to, ‘don’t you dare raise your voice to me’. Again the emotion/feeling is being acknowledged which helps him understand this emotion. It is a part of who he is. Repressed anger may later come depression etc.
What I suggest to my clients who are having trouble with their kids is that they acknowledge the upset feelings – ‘I can see you are disappointed – upset – distressed – overwhelmed’ etc (pick the feeling/emotion that you think is causing the behaviour) and take it from there. The more we help our kids make sense of their emotions the more stable they will be in later life. I cover this in my book ‘Happiness – Who Wants It? in detail along with other empathic methods.
As you can see the first step to help ourselves and our children is to increase our awareness as to what goes on inside our minds. Click here to find out more.
*Published by IMS Brogan – a company that tracks the pharmaceutical industry.
The article below appeared in The Guardian on the 2nd October 2010.
“In 1986, a young American academic published a paper where he warned, tentatively, that babies who were looked after in daycare were showing signs of increased levels of aggression and disobedience in later life.
The study unleashed what he describes as a global “firestorm of controversy”. The suggestion that babies suffered by being taken from their parents and handed to carers, usually in nurseries, made uncomfortable reading both for mothers considering returning to work and for policymakers, eager to encourage them back into the workforce.
Jay Belsky, the author of the above 1986 study, Infant Daycare: A Cause for Concern? left the US, partly because of the outcry, and is now director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birkbeck in London. He remains palpably wounded by the response to his original, hesitant suggestion of a link between daycare and behavioural problems in later life”.
The article below appeared in a Vancouver newspaper in 2014
“The number of atypical antipsychotic prescriptions dispensed from retail pharmacies for Canadians under age 18 rose from about 772,000 in 2007 to more than 1.3 million in 2011, according to IMS Brogan, a company that tracks the pharmaceutical industry. The drugs are being used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, developmental disabilities, autism, conduct disorder, anxiety and even insomnia, all conditions for which they have not been approved by health regulators”.
Similarly, in 2013 the number of children in the USA between the age of 1 and 18 on medication for mental health reasons (depression, ADD, ADHD, psychosis etc) numbered 17,922,134 (1) – nearly 21% of the children attending school in the USA. In the UK, children prescribed ADHD medication has risen from 92,100 in 1997 to 786,400 last year according to NHS figures.
Can we link childcare to these disorders and this epidemic of medication?
We need to look at the research that has continued since 1986 and what we now know today.
Firstly this study by two leading psychiatrists explains the effects on children when the quality of parenting isn’t of the required empathic (empathy isn’t sympathy) nature for the child to thrive. As a reader don’t be thinking – “it’s the parents fault”. Our brains are shaped by the environment around us and until we become aware of our issues will just continue to unconsciously follow the parenting patterns our parents used with us. And, naturally, their parents learned it from their parents, and so on back.
The positives (e.g. empathy), and negatives (e.g. impatience), beliefs (e.g. children should be seen and not heard) and feelings (e.g. contempt) which we unconsciously ‘swallowed’ from the moment we were born, are now acted out on our children unless we are aware of them. Add to this the unconscious cultural attitudes and behaviours that parents take on, learned from their family (e.g. boys are more important than girls). The frequency of these negatives projected onto the child are likely to play a big part in the mental health issues mentioned above and naturally affect their self esteem.
The NCBI article (click on ‘this study’ in above paragraph), points out the importance of Attachment of an infant / child to their parents or caregivers, and that when this attachment isn’t available to the child, he becomes insecure. This, along with the lack of safety in the environment, plays a major role in a child’s mental health, (such as anxiety and stress). Daycare, depending on its quality, may have either a positive or negative effect on the child.
Unfortunately, due to financial restrains some mothers/parents in either the attached/unattached camps have no choice and have to send their child to daycare. High quality care (2) where the child is more likely to attach to a caregiver is limited and the vast majority of mums find themselves resorting to lower quality care. For children under three who are subjected to lower quality care for more than 20hrs or more a week, 43% will be insecure. Accompanying this will be raised levels of cortisol for the infant or toddler (3). This is bad news for caring mothers who cannot afford high quality care. A UNICEF 2008 report concluded that the vast majority of care provided in the UK and the USA falls short of its standards of daycare.
With a child who already has an ingrained sense of lack of attachment the impact of the lower quality care environment is likely to exacerbate this condition. He/she is unlikely to feel attached to the caregivers in the low quality care establishments (e.g. insufficient carers) and he won’t feel attached to his own parents. So the child will turn to the only people left. His peers. And the problem with this is that children don’t love each other unconditionally. A child who may be top of the pile of popularity one day in his peers view, can be bottom of it the next. In the peer world it’s an immature dog eat dog of fitting in or not, along with a risk of bullying. And as a human being who seeks connection as a natural part of their nature this can be devastating, especially as he doesn’t have the necessary attachment to his parent or caregiver to pull him through the rough time. Many parents believe that the socializing aspect of daycare is good for the child and this is true but the child needs to know that they can turn to their parents for emotional support when needed.
In the final analysis if a child is securely attached to her mum or primary caregiver/s and the daycare is one of high quality the child will likely thrive.
What is Attachment?
Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969).
Please note – we are not blaming the parent!!! Our brains are shaped by the environment and until we become aware of our issues created by this environment will just continue to unconsciously follow the parenting patterns our parents used with us..
For an infant or child, attachment is created when they know that the parents or caregivers can provide for their needs emotionally – i.e. that these people are safe, that she/he feels understood by them. From this secure place the child is able to reach out and gain experience in the world. This positive emotional responsiveness by parents towards their infant embeds itself in the cell memory to create true self esteem which is carried forward into adult life. (4) When this is the case we see adult relationships finding a balance between intimacy and independence.
Attachment theory was theorised from a western world perspective. Fifty or so years on from its beginnings, researchers studying tribes have concluded that the more possibilities for attachment for a child, the better. (5) Through custom the tribal villagers become the extended family of the child, providing additional safe emotional responsiveness needed for secure attachment. The child grows up with many ‘parents’, along with a deep seated sense of connectedness. And, should the birth mother die, the impact of this is greatly reduced. Both a secure family unit or an extended family have the same effect on a child. The child is likely to:
- Form better relationships with others
- React less dramatically to stress
- Be more effective in solving problems
- Be more willing to explore the world independently
- Be more willing to try different things
Also they grow up with true self esteem. (6)
Parents or caregivers who have attachment issues themselves are unlikely to be able to provide a secure emotional bond because of their own lack of empathy, persistent anxieties, fears, and depression. Education can go a long way to changing this, but if the parent is unaware of their own issues and are impatient, harsh, and unable to ‘tune in’ to their child’s needs, narcissistic or cruel (7) the parent will likely pass on their attachment problems to their children who might:
- Be bullies or be bullied
- Show fear and anxiety
- Manifest conditions such as ADHD, ADD, depression, conduct disorder etc.
- Not interact with others
Amazingly there was a study – called ‘the strange situation’ – which predicts with 75% accuracy the child’s attachment and behaviour issues BEFORE THEY ARE BORN by interviewing the mother to be. The reason they can predict this is because most mothers will, by default, behave in ways they were treated by THEIR mothers.
For centuries the extended family provided the opportunities for secure Attachment. But with the disintegration of the family unit and extended family unit, the available caregivers are gone.
The simple solution is to understand empathy and then the wise education in the realm of Attachment to parents, caregivers, doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and pediatricians. And counselling, if the emotional reactions towards infants and children are too ingrained.
Medication is NOT THE ANSWER. Consider France, where only 0.5% of the child school population receives medication (8) for ADHD and in America its 6%. Why? Because the French address the problematic attachment issues through counselling, rather than dish out pills.
For the facts, figures and insightfulness you need about this, read
‘How not to F*** them up’ by Oliver James. Vermillion 2010, is an excellent and easy read.
Happiness – Who wants it. Mills, C. What Makes You Tick Publishing 2014.
Hold onto your Kids. Neufeld and Mate. Ballantine Books 2014.
Why Love Matters. Gerhardt, S. Routledge 2004
The Whole Brain Child. Siegel, D & Payne, T. Delacorte Press 2011
Parenting from the Inside Out. Siegel, D. & Hartzell, M. Tarcher 2003
The Science Of Parenting. Sunderland, M. DK Publishing 2006
(2) High quality care is defined as:
For under twos the ratio of children to staff should be 3:1
For under threes the size of the core groups in which children are cared for should be eight
For children aged 2 years and over, half of staff should be graduates and the remainder should be up to Level 3 qualification.
For children under two, one third of staff should be graduates, the rest up to Level 3. (Daycare Trust 2009)
The vast majority of care provided in the UK and USA fall short of this (UNICEF 2008)
(3) See video on Home page
(4) Hazan, C. & Shaver, P. “Attachment as an organizational framework for research on close relationship.” Psychological Inquiry. 5 1-22, 1994.
(5) ‘Hold on to your Kids’. Neufeld and Mate’
(6)The true test of self esteem is to imagine stripping away all one’s successes in life and what you are left with would be the sensed value of oneself – good or not so good.
(7)There is overwhelming evidence to support that ongoing cruelty to infants and toddlers will leave them with mental illness Schore, (http://www.trauma-pages.com/articles.php#Schore) Siegel, Sunderland et al.