Time has come to stop making our children sick

Time has come to stop making our children sick 150 150 Jane Evans

We have to stop crushing children’s emotional development by using shame

As I read yet another article on how CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) can’t cope with the high levels of CHILDREN and young people being referred for assessments and support, this time reporting what psychiatrists are finding, I want to scream, shout, swear with sheer frustration! All at a time when so much is categorically proven about what developing brains and bodies need for optimum wellness and development, yet is too often ignored in favour of old ways.

The use of shaming, punishing, giving consequences and then dishing out demeaning rewards and pouring on praise is still prevalent in homes, early years and schools. This works alongside of squeezing children at every turn to achieve f*&@king outcomes.

FYI – IT’S NOT WORKING OUT SO STOP IT NOW! A glance at statistics on children’s mental health, obesity, diabetes, self-harm and academic measurements show this, go google search it if you think I am exaggerating or scaremongering!

Why the hell is so little being done to prevent mental illness in children?

The education system, and to a large extent the early years system in the UK, USA and other countries are not holistic. Every child DOES NOT MATTER in far too many of them because the adults are stressed and scared! Every SATS score, GCSE, A-Level does, but not every child, that’s bullshit. Even worse is that children feel this, they sense the stress and expectations from the adults around them.

The pressures on children in the settings they spend far too much of their lives in, are making them ill because, MOSTLY, they aren’t set up to prioritise relationships and connection. Policies, inspections and competition have created a dominant focus on assessing, measuring and outcomes, which many professionals abhor but feel trapped to work within.

Speaking, training and travelling widely in the UK I frequently meet those working in early years and schools. They are dedicated, passionate individuals but are getting sick, down-trodden, stressed, sad and stuck. Their sense of creativity and connection is giving way to fear and pressure to ‘deliver.’ In many cases this leads to looking for ultimate consequences or incentives to gain compliance, at the cost of connection and compassion. Leaders in all settings have the power to change this but it need support.

What kind of settings and knowledge can improve mental health?

Children are NOT robust and resilient, that is also bullshit. Their early brain and body development is fragile and needs extra nurture. They rely upon these good enough, (not perfect or we are all doomed!!), early experiences of connection and compassion to be able to access a baseline of ongoing resilience for life. Settings can do so much to support this.

I often liken sending a child to a setting that relies upon behaviour management, time outs, exclusions, consequences and reward systems to, repeatedly handing someone a beautiful, delicate butterfly knowing that they will mostly crush, or damage its wings, because they believe it should be held in a certain way. This is already resulting in a generation of crushed butterflies!!! Unacceptable on every level, when we DO know better.

Standard training for anyone who is fortunate enough to have time with children, should be on attachment – what it is, and how to understand and enable secure, healthy attachments for life. In early year’s this should be second in importance ONLY to safeguarding training, and on a par with it.

Likewise in education, the same, basic insight into how the body and brain are shaped by our earliest experiences and how this plays out in our ability to be around others and learn whilst keeping well. All of this needs to come with total commitment to simple, robust understanding and use of simple daily practices which regulate and support the nervous system and the brain, along with a focus on building capacity for emotional intelligence and wellness.

By now I may have upset some of you

You may be asking -What about the parents and carers? Where do they come into the picture as they may be the initial butterfly crushers creating stressed, anxious, mentally and emotionally unwell children in the first place? Very true, so working in an authentic way with them to support their relationships with their children is a key and vital part of improving mental health of for every child.

For this to happen, professionals need have robust understanding of what early childhood trauma and adversity are, and how they show up when we care for and raise children. There must be staff with time and the ability to fully support parents and carers by offering unconditional relationships as a starting point. Policies and organisations must put children’s and staff emotional, mental and physical well-being before EVERYTHING else.

Will it be easy, nope? Will it be worth it – you bet?!!

It takes great COURAGE and effort to move from places of disbelief, suspicion, caution and/or confusion, to a serious, unremitting commitment (although small wobbles are allowed!) to creating professionals and settings where every child is seen both emotionally and physically, and has a clear sense that they matter by having access to someone who loves them, and forms an unconditional connection (although several would be better).

It is our moral duty and imperative to do this at home, in early years, in schools and in society. There must be a real sense of urgency as our children ARE suffering and sick. They can’t heal themselves. Without informed, compassion and connection focused adults and environments, these children will be sick adults too. All at a time when we do know what would increase wellness, and reduce high anxiety and mental illness for so many of them.

 Some essential texts:

The Social Neuroscience of Education, Louis Cozolino

Attachment in common sense and doodles, Miriam Silver

Born For Love, Bruce Perry & Maia Szalavitz

Scared Sick, Robin Karr-Morse & Meredith Wiley

To explore your individual or setting’s needs:

E: janeevans61@hotmail.co.uk

M: 07455281247

Images from Pixabay

Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans
  • Beth Marshall

    Thank you so much for this. My son has a significant amount of trauma in his background. The lack of understanding what this looks like in the school setting is absolutely shocking. He has been subject to shaming and consequences for being in “fight or flight” in the classroom setting. He internalized that he is simply “bad”. It has been a horrible ride and an uphill battle to undo. He is really coming into his own now, but never should have been subject to this. He is one of many misunderstood children in the classroom. Parents, educators and education systems need to remove their heads from their collective you-know-whats and change this!

    • Jane Evans

      Thanks Beth for your great insight. I am so sorry to hear your son has been through so much but very glad he is somehow managing to move forward.
      There are many dedicated educators but sadly their is still a strong belief in punishing and shaming children which is not acceptable. Doing harm and expecting positive outcomes always needs to be questioned.

      Take care, Jane

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