Seminar 6 and talk on the Care of the Child
THE CARE OF THE CHILD
What are the principle neglected factors which affect the wellbeing of the child?
1. Lack of care
given to pre-natal and perinatal nutrition for the parents and the baby.
Neglect of the infant and toddler's
physical and emotional needs in the weeks and months after birth.
2. Lack of really
good care of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth owing to lack of
mid-wives. The process of birth may
be too uncaring and mechanical because of this. Lack of support for young
mothers and help in recognising and treating
3. Failure to
educate children to take responsibility for their future sexual relationships,
teaching them about responsible
parenthood and the care of the child. Teaching them about sexual intercourse
alone encourages promiscuity
and doesn't teach emotional responsibility. Failure to teach children
to be aware of the dangers of premature
and unprotected sex and of transmitted sexual diseases is the cause of much unnecessary trauma.
4. Failure to
teach young men and women in their late teens the essential skills and responsibilities of
parenthood. Warning them about the long-term effects on the immune system of their children and even their grandchildren of binge-drinking or excessive consumption of alchohol.
5. Teaching children to read and write too early, before the neurological pathways for developing these skills have been developed and before their bodies are sufficiently coordinated to be able to sit still, concentrate and remember and copy letters and numbers.
If these were
given the attention they require, an enormous amount of suffering could
be avoided and a huge amount
of money could be saved. There is still so little understanding of
the infant's and toddler's emotional and physical needs that
little progress is being made and the nervous system of many children is damaged.
There is one book that concerned parents should read in order to avoid unconsciously inflicting trauma on their infants and toddlers. There is so much that is now known but is not yet common knowledge about how vital good, loving care and emotional bonding with the mother is in the earliest months and years for the optimum development of the brain and nervous system in the older child and adolescent. Drug-taking, anorexia, self-cutting and other self-destructive patterns stem directly from early emotional trauma and a damaged nervous system:
Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma is an interdisciplinary book which explores our current understanding of the forces involved in both the creation and healing of emotional trauma. Through conversations with pioneering clinicians and researchers, In it, the author, Daniela F. Sieff explores questions such as:
What is emotional trauma?
What are the causes?
What are its consequences?
What does it mean to heal emotional trauma?
How can healing be achieved?
The conversations are engaging and accessible, making the work of these insightful and paradigm-changing pioneers directly available to a wide audience.
©Anne Baring (talk given
in Wokingham Sept. 2004)
The tiny, vulnerable body of a baby is an expression of
the miraculous creative nature of life, ever renewing itself through
the union of the male and female. It calls forth our deepest feelings
– both the best and the worst. It may evoke our love, our caring
and devotion or our hatred, rejection and cruelty. The child may carry
the burden of the injured or destroyed emotional life of its parents
who may vent their rage and hatred upon its fragile soul and body, or
it may be nourished by the loving care of parents who are able to respond
instinctively, wisely and patiently to its physical and emotional needs.
If there is one word which summarises the needs of the
child in today’s world, it is the word sanctuary. In our dysfunctional
and predatory society, where people are increasingly out of touch with
each other and there is no consensus as to what values should direct
our lives, and no time to attend to their emotional needs, millions
of children cannot find sanctuary either at home or in school.
The charity Childline was founded in 1986 and is now adopted
in 43 countries. It receives over 2 million calls a year, some 5,000
a day of which only 2,300 can be answered. 10% of our children harm
themselves physically because of the mental anguish derived from fear
of bullies and abusive parents. (1) What does
this say about the care of our children? What is the effect on them
of one-parent families, exhausted working mothers, Day Nurseries from
infancy, serial partners, bullying, television, video violence and the
dubious values absorbed through the media? How are they being programmed
into aggressive behaviour and early, promiscuous sexuality by those
values and by the images put before them? What is the effect of our
failure to educate them for the responsibilities of parenthood, to give
them practical skills such as cooking and a basic knowledge of nutrition?
A recent study has shown that one in five first babies is born into
a home with no father. 18% of first born children and 15% of all babies
go home with just their mother. (2)
The last 40 years have seen:
of rates of depression, suicide, crimes of violence, drug and alcohol
Half of all women and 43% of men have taken anitidepressants in 2014. In the UK prescriptions
for anti-depressants have more than doubled in 10 years to 26 million
in 2002 and to 40 million in 2012.
increase in sexually transmitted diseases. The UK has the highest
teenage pregnancy rate in Europe
of many diseases such as heart disease and stroke, asthma, diabetes,
multiple sclerosis and cancer.
in leukemia in children under 5
in educational disabilities such as hyperactivity (ADHD) and autism.
1 in 5
teenagers show signs of heart disease
1 in 8
adults suffer from heart and circulatory disease.
now has the world’s fastest growing rate of obesity and the
most obese population in western Europe.
mental health disorders and the violence, depression and social problems
that go with them have increased sharply amongst young people, particularly
in those children born after 1980 who are now in their twenties. (4)
of children are being prescribed prozac and ritalin for depression
and attention deficit disorder with very limited evidence of their
long-term effects - harmful or beneficial. A recent report (September
2004) has highlighted the risk of suicide in children taking these
These statistics reflect immense suffering and immense
cost to the NHS and therefore to all of us whose taxes finance
the NHS. Is there a possible root cause of all these symptoms? Can we
do anything to prevent them happening?
New life begins with the meeting of the male and female
nuclei, the connection of sperm with ovum. This meeting signifies the
beginning of a new individual who will carry the genetic material from
both parents. However, the way this genetic material develops is not
predetermined. It can be modified positively or negatively during pregnancy
by nutrition. It can be injured by toxins derived from alcohol, smoking
and drugs. It can be damaged by anti-biotics and other medical drugs.
(5) For example, an increasing number of babies
are being born in this country with low birth weight, with their brain
and nervous system damaged by their mother’s heavy drinking. We
apparently have the highest number of female bingers in the world (6) If we want healthy babies, the wisest course would be for women to abstain
from alcohol altogether from four months before as well as during pregnancy
— no matter what the "experts" say. (7)
Good nutrition is vital during the months when the embryo
and foetus are developing. We now know when and how the nervous system
and the brain form in the womb. We also know that a diet deficient in
specific nutrients in the pregnant woman can lead later on to a whole
spectrum of disorders which include mental illness on the one hand and
cancer, heart disease, diabetes and diseases of the nervous system on
the other. (8) There are two main factors that
are thought to contribute to poor nutrition quite apart from the amount
First, the depletion of the soil over the last fifty years
and the lack of essential amounts of trace elements have led to a general
weakening of our immune system and that of the animals we eat. There
is evidence for example, that lack of selenium contributes to heart
disease and cancer which are now affecting younger and younger age groups.
Cancer is now reaching epidemic proportions. More than 5 million people
have asthma in this country and 1 person dies from it every 7 hours.
A recent study in America has found a definite link between asthma and
a deficiency in selenium and a study in this country has found a lack
of iron and selenium in the umbilical cord of children who have later
developed asthma and eczema. (9) 999
A discovery of great importance was the fact that an essential
element in the formation of a healthy foetus was folic acid. Spina Bifida
has fallen by 60% since pregnant women were given folic acid. (10) Yet, astonishingly, 4 out of 10 pregnant women still do not take any
kind of supplement, including folic acid.
The second crucial factor in poor nutrition is a lack
of fish oils - particularly the Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA
which, since our consumption of fish has declined dramatically over
the last 50 or so years, is lacking in our diet. These fatty acids are
now known to be vital for brain development and for the stability of
the nervous system. Research in many countries has shown how depression
and violent behaviour correlate inversely with fish and seafood consumption.
The suicide rates in countries with the lowest consumption of fish are
up to twice as high as those with the highest consumption, homicide
three times as high, bipolar depression 20 times and major depression
40 times. (11) A recent study suggests that Alzheimer’s
disease may be prevented by taking DHA. (12) Depression
also responds to this.
The crucially important time for the formation of the
nervous system and future brain functioning is the first three months
of pregnancy and particularly between day 15 and 28 after conception when the neural tube is developing. Quite apart from toxins derived
from alcohol, smoking and drugs, poor nutrition invites serious damage
to the embryo’s basic development, particularly to the connections
between the different regions of the brain:
“Neural tube disorders occur about three weeks after
conception, and lead to serious disabilities such as spina bifida, cleft
palate and hair-lip as well as to mental disorder. At about three weeks
the embryo is a long disk. This folds length-wise and fuses into a tube.
If DNA production is slow, the tube may fail to close completely. Any
gap left may become a cleft in the palate, for instance, or an imperfect
junction between the two sides of the brain. Also forming at this stage
are striations across the neural tube, delineating the spinal column
and regions of the brain. Imperfect fusion or delineation can lead to
inadequate connections with poor signalling between different regions
of the brain… Low signalling activity features in the brain scans
of people with violent temperaments…This indicates a poor level
of communication between the thinking, feeling and motor regions of
the brain. Trials using nutritional supplements have reduced neural
tube disorders by a high percentage.” (13)
The second most important time is the last three months
of pregnancy and the first ten months of infancy, when the brain is
growing very rapidly. The brain is 10% docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). If
the supply of this is insufficient, the development of the brain and
nervous system will be impaired. (13)
The third important time is late adolescence when both
the body and the brain are growing rapidly, particularly in young boys.
Which is the wise option? To continue as before or to
educate the population at all age levels to awareness of the effects
of toxins and poor nutrition on the development of the foetus and embryo?
According to the research carried out by the McCarrison
Society, preparation for conceiving a child needs to begin 4
months before conception.
During these 4 months:
need to avoid alcohol, smoking, drugs, anti-biotics and anti-depressants
— all of which transmit toxins to the foetus.
to pay attention to the quality of their diet and to their intake
of protein and fresh fruit and vegetables. They also need to take daily exercise.
to take fish oil supplements which contain DHA and EPA and a multi-vitamin
and mineral pill which contains the nutrients selenium, iron, magnesium,
zinc and the B vitamins as well as the crucially important folic acid.
need to continue to take these throughout pregnancy, and while they
are breast-feeding or preparing for a second child. (14) These small preventive steps could have dramatic and long-term effects
on the general health of the nation and the happiness and well-being
of individual families.
The Limbic Brain. There is something
that is not widely understood in our culture and that is the importance
of the limbic brain. We have three brain systems and they continually
interact with each other. The oldest (reptilian, 500 m years) gives
us our instinctive survival reflexes; the second (limbic or mammalian,
200 m years) our capacity for empathy and group bonding, and the third
(neo-cortical, from 1½ m years) our capacity for abstract thought,
reflection and everything we call consciousness. In infancy and early
childhood, each develops successively out of the other. The reptilian
and mammalian brains together form the autonomic nervous system and
fight/flight reflexes. The neo-cortical brain and everything we call
consciousness grows out of the limbic system in the first few months
and years of our lives. (for a fuller explanation of this process see
Sue Gerhardt, Why Love Matters)
We are not a body and a brain but a miraculously integrated body/brain
organism. (Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion) If there is
not good parental care, the development of the brain can be arrested
at the limbic stage and the full development of neo-cortical skills
and the optimal integration of the three brain systems will not be able
The maternal instinct is innate and rooted in the limbic
brain but it can be deflected from its natural instinctive response
if the mother experienced rejection, abuse or abandonment in her own
childhood or if her mother offered a poor model of parenting. Her natural
instinct to bond with her child may then be overlaid by the imprinted
pattern of her own experience at the deepest instinctive level of the
limbic brain. Insight into this fact and informed support can prevent
the transmission of a negative pattern to a new generation.
We now know that the instinctive bonding between mother
and child - the experience of physical and emotional connection is absolutely
essential for the child's future emotional and physical well-being.
It is the emotional and physical bonding between mother and infant that
establishes and develops the neuronal pathways throughout the body/mind
organism. The sense of trust and safety develops through the infant’s
seeing, touching, listening; tasting, smelling the mother. If this pleasurable
sensory bonding is established in a contented infancy, the neuronal
circuits are grounded in the experience of relatedness and love and
there will be the possibility of a healthy integration of the three
brain systems (reptilian, mammalian and neo-cortical) and a further
development of the neuronal pathways in the frontal lobes. But if there
is disruption of bonding between mother and child, and the experience
of constant fear and anxiety at the limbic level (instinctive level
of the autonomic nervous system) in early infancy, then a healthy and
strong connection between the three brain systems will not take place.
The capacity to relate to others with empathy, care and compassion will
be impaired. How does the too-rapid expulsion of mothers from hospital
and the lack of support and help given to young mothers after birth
affect this essential mother/child bonding? (in France, mothers stay
in hospital for 5 days. Here they may be discharged on the day of
Dr. John Bowlby, writing in the 1950's, was the first
person to draw attention to the effects of maternal deprivation through
neglect, depression, abandonment or death yet society as a whole is
still not aware of these. Until the age of 5 years or so small children
have no sense of time. Instinct tells them that the absence of the mother
means abandonment. Bowlby found that infants or small children who had
lost their mothers through death or abandonment developed depression
in later life. They did not recover from the trauma of separation. Buried
grief can harden into anger and depression later in life. If the bonding
between mother and child is incomplete or deficient, the growing child
will remain negatively imprinted at the limbic, instinctive level, experiencing
constant anxiety that will affect his or her ability to make and sustain
good relationships later on. In view of this, are Day Nurseries a good
idea for infants and very young children? This is not to criticise mothers
who leave their children in Nurseries but to suggest that, as a society,
we may need to rethink our priorities.
The heart. In the foetus, the heart is the foundation
of the nervous system which develops from the heart cells, 65% of which
are neural cells. The brain develops from a mass of undifferentiated
heart cells before they form into the four cardiac chambers. The right
hemisphere of the brain is the first to develop out of the heart cells.
The heart is connected to all the vital organs of the body. (See Nilsson,
p 92-4) Recent research has shown that the well being of the heart is
of primary importance to many processes, including cognition. It has
over 40,000 sensory neurons. It has its own independent nervous system.
The electrical signal of the heart is 60% more powerful than the electrical
signal of the brain. The electro-magnetic field of the heart is 100
times more powerful than that of the brain and in the adult extends
8-12 feet beyond the body. (15) Just putting the
hand over the heart area changes the brain waves. The heart produces
a balancing hormone — oxytocin, the bonding hormone — and
this hormone is activated in a loving and nurturing maternal environment.
Frustration and fear make the heart rate jagged and rapid. Loving, stroking,
caressing, make it rhythmic.
We know now that the foetus in the womb registers everything
the mother is experiencing: her happiness and delight in her growing
child or her distress, fear and anxiety. We know it is affected, as
I said earlier, by alcohol, smoking and drugs but also by tension and
violence in the parental relationship. We know it is sensitive to music,
noise and the quality of the environment the mother is experiencing.
(taking tiny babies into supermarkets is not a good idea) All this affects
its heart and nervous system. The transcendent experience of intense
bliss comes from the limbic system; the infant can know these feelings
in the womb and in the first few moments of being reconnected with the
mother after birth and in close contact with her touch, her voice and
her body throughout infancy. Her constant presence and her joyous response to her baby are absolutely essential factors for its future wellbeing. This trusting bonding experience is the foundation of later
feelings of trust and love, of joy and delight in life.
Until the age of 3-5 years, the neural connections between the limbic
brain and the neo-cortical brain and frontal lobes are not established.
Until then, the young child lives purely through the limbic brain or
instinctive level of behaviour. Between 3 and 5 the neo-cortical level
is activated and the child develops a sense of self. The memories associated
with the older brain levels become “unconscious”. Yet these
early memories imprinted on the limbic brain still have immense power
to influence our lives and our behaviour. A wound to the limbic brain
can programme our lives in negative ways to the end of our days.
Study after study has shown that emotional and physical abuse of the
mother-to-be affects the neuronal circuits of the child she is carrying
and that the neglect or abuse of the infant and small child alters the
balance of its neural chemistry and programmes it to depression or to
violent behaviour later on. What happens is that when fear or distress
is experienced, the adrenal glands produce a high level of the stress
hormone cortisol and this upsets or disturbs the optimal formation and
equilibrium of the nervous system, interfering with the neural connections
between the different parts of the brain. We need to ask whether the
bullying and aggression that is so apparent not only in schools but
in the home and the workplace and now on Facebook and Twitter does not in part originate in foetal and
We are born with 100 billion neural cells. From 3-10 months a culling
takes place with the loss of 50,000 connections between brain cells
every second. Cells that are not used during this time die. Every cell
has several branchings off it called dendrons. The more the cells are
used the more connecting dendrons develop. They develop complexity and
increase by use. If they aren't used, they can be lost. The mother's
holding and responding to her infant is vital to the development of
these dendrons. Care and bonding with the mother or primal carer help
the cells to be active and are absolutely essential in the first 10
What can help the mother’s bonding with her infant? Baby massage
is one of the most effective ways to help young mothers bond with their
babies, particularly the 10% of mothers who are suffering from post-natal
depression. If mothers can be taught this method in a group it helps
them to feel more confident and to meet other mothers and make new friends.
Home Start is an excellent enterprise.
Cellular receptors can hold memories of trauma stored deep within the
body, in the hormonal system, the digestive system and in the muscles.
Working with deep massage later in life may release traumatic memories
that have been stored in the cellular memory for decades.
It is interesting that some 1000 primary schools have adopted a peer
massage programme that is seeing remarkable results. Once children begin
to touch each other on the head, neck, shoulders and back in a gentle
way for ten minutes, first asking the other child for permission to
do so, the whole class settles, bullying decreases and they develop
greater trust in each other. Children feel happier, have more friends
and work with greater concentration. (17)
What are the deeper roots of violence?
Each of us carries in our limbic brain the archaic programming
of predator and prey transmitted from earlier phases of evolution, but
what triggers it? Children who have experienced violence and the deep
distress caused by abandonment, neglect and emotional or physical violence are likely to become bullies
or to become violent (predator) when they are older or to remain fixated
in the role of victim (prey). (18) People who
have been traumatised by violence may be attracted to causes and ideologies
which justify and even celebrate violence as a means to an end. Their
capacity for love and altruism will be projected onto the cause or ideology
and their unconscious rage will be projected onto the perceived enemy(ies)
of the cause or ideology. Nothing activates the instinctive defences
of the limbic brain and disturbs the nervous system more than fear.
Trauma and terror can transfix the victim of violence in a state of
perpetual fear and anxiety at the limbic level throughout his or her
Many families in this and other countries are victims
of terrorism in the home where one adult maintains absolute control
over partner and children through the threat of physical or verbal violence.
An animal in such a situation would attack or run away. But the small
child, because it is weak and needs food and shelter for survival, cannot
run away. Too young to articulate its feelings, it may develop mental
or physical symptoms of distress or it may become silent and depressed.
Some children live in a state of hyper-vigilance and visceral fear for
years, with disastrous effects on their mental and physical health.
All of us concerned with the welfare of children need to be trained
to recognise the symptoms of a victim of such terrorism.
In some children, the impotence of the terrified and unhappy
child later becomes the omnipotence of the violent, bullying and controlling
older child or adult or, alternatively, the passivity of the victim.
When in a position of power in relation to a weaker human being, the
unconscious limbic wound can erupt in some kind of predatory attack
on a weaker person — whether rape, murder, torture, sexual abuse
or bullying. Bullying is basically the torture of a helpless victim
but we should always look for the origins of this behaviour in the emotional
distress of the child who exhibits this pattern..
I do not believe that certain children are born evil nor
that we are genetically programmed to aggression. However, predatory
patterns of behaviour exist in latency in the limbic brain of each one
of us. Through good nutrition, parenting and education they can remain
dormant. Through poor nutrition, poor parenting and poor education they
can be triggered into taking over the psyche, particularly where an
ethos of violence and brutality is condoned or encouraged by a culture.
One should also bear in mind the influence of herd bonding and herd
copying — again coming from the limbic brain behaviour patterns,
particularly in the young.
I am in no doubt that the continual viewing of violence
on television, the nightly glorification of murder and brutality arouses
and encourages predatory behaviour. On television and in videos such
as Manhunt, in which a man roams the street killing anyone he comes
across, we give children models of cruelty and depravity to copy. We
have fostered a culture in which every child — even those as young
as 5 or 6 — sees people being beaten, kicked, shot and murdered
every day, in its home, often just before going to bed. They see images
of murder and male violence announcing an “exciting” forthcoming
programme. What does this suggest to them about adult behaviour, about
life in the world? We deplore the existence of evil, yet we celebrate
and encourage it. Why should we be surprised when our children act out
the images of cruelty they have seen? As the mother of a murdered son
said recently: “This game gave the ideas, the violence, the method
to my son’s killer.” The judge said there was no evidence
to support a link. Some 'experts' would like us to believe that children
are not adversely affected by these images because they know they are
not real but this seems a strange conclusion in view of the known fact
that children absorb most when they are excited and their emotions are
What I would like to suggest to you is the possibility
that the unconscious limbic brain does not distinguish between fantasy
violence and real violence. Children may be very frightened by
the brutality continually set before them. To compensate for this fear,
they may unconsciously copy the aggressor because, to the limbic brain,
strength and brutality offer a role model that ensures survival. Boys
in particular copy this role model but now girls are also copying it.
Our increasingly decadent society suggests that unless we wake up to
what we encourage in the name of freedom of expression, we will condemn
ourselves to repeat the predatory patterns of behaviour that now threaten
the survival of our species. What we call civilised behaviour is a very
thin skin covering a substratum of instinctive survival responses to
Developing the Child's Gifts
Every child in this country carries great gifts. We could help our children
to become well-rounded human beings, intellectually alert, emotionally
intelligent, experienced in the practical necessities of life as well
as fulfilling their own creative potential if we gave them a more balanced
education. We could help them to develop the heart and the imagination
as well as the mind and to develop practical skills, using their hands
as well as their brains. We could develop their bodily strength and
general health through sport. It is the soul of our children that is
suffering from the harshness and superficiality of our technologically
advanced but emotionally illiterate culture. So many children can find
no deeper meaning to life reflected in the values they see around them
and for this reason turn to sex, alcohol and drugs. What instinctively
could be expressed as love is expressed as hatred, greed, bullying and
There is an enormous spiritual vacuum left by the collapse
of Christianity but there are many initiatives beginning to fill it.
The most important fact I can convey to you is that if the creativity
of the imagination is not nourished by a vision which inspires love
and delight and relationship, it can turn negative and destructive.
Suppose we told children from earliest childhood that
they participate in a great Web of Life, and that they need to take
care of it so that no part of it is injured or destroyed. Suppose parents
and teachers told children at about the age of 5 that each one of them
has within them a special gift – a hidden treasure that, with time and effort,
they could discover and develop. Suppose we told them the story of the
planet and how recent our human story is in relation to that ancient
story and how important their role is in protecting
the planet and all life on it.
Suppose, when they are still in Primary School, we showed
them Nilsson’s wonderful pictures of how their life came into
being, how precious and fragile it is at the beginning, how miraculously
all the systems of the mind/body organism work together to maintain
their life. Their body is not a machine, existing in isolation from
its surroundings but an organism vitally connected to the greater organism
we call nature.
Urban children have little connection with nature yet
a sense of wonder and connection with nature and with animals is innate
and instinctive in a small child. We could nurture and encourage this
connection in every school in the country so that our children become
ecologically literate, aware of how their lives are embedded in the
life of the planet. There are many initiatives which are encouraging
children to grow vegetables and plants in schools, learning about nature,
nutrition and cooking at the same time. (19) Following
a Swedish initiative, one experiment that is being tried here is taking
children into woods and fields at least once a week, to learn about
plants, animals and trees by exploration, touch and observation rather
than in the classroom. Children love this and look forward to it. (Sadly,
the fear of paedophilia may prevent this)
How could schools become sanctuaries? By enlisting the
help of every child in the country — making it a conscious goal.
There needs to be zero tolerance of bullying in our schools and an explanation
given to children of why children bully others and how it harms both
victim and perpetrator. Village by village and city by city, we could
make this country a no-bullying zone. An initiative called Values Education
(20) has been developed at West Kidlington Primary
School in Oxfordshire and is now in place in many schools in the south
of England. It teaches social skills, listening skills, consideration
for others, the ability to reflect on deeper questions and to exchange
ideas. A few minutes silence and meditation every day is a part of it.
The results are better relationships, better manners, less bullying
and greater calm. The practice of mindfulness is now spreading to many schools (2014).
What happens to a culture when adults give children no
values beyond the materialist ones that now engage us? What happens
when there is no vision in society as a whole and when children are
intensely lonely because their parents are so busy working that they
are unable to spare the time to talk to them? Naturally, they turn to
television and videos to fill the void in their lives. Extending their
time at school will not fill this void. How can we inculcate responsibility,
gentleness, compassion in our society if they feel we do not love them because
there is no time to be with them? How can we teach our children how
miraculous and extraordinary the creation and unfolding of their own
life is and how important it is to prepare, even as adolescents, for
the future well being of their own children if we are unable to relate
to them emotionally? We need to place the huge amount of information
they absorb in the context of an extended field of relationships, not
only with us as parents, but with every other species, the planet and
the vastness of the universe beyond.
1. Mental Health Foundation, Camelot Foundation report 6/9/04
2. Study Professor Kathleen Kiernan, London School of Economics, June
3. Dr. Andrew Powell, Royal College of Psychiatrists
4. McCarrison Society Newsletter, August 2003
5. Yale Medical School Survey 1991-9. Report Sunday Telegraph 12/9/04
6. Talk given to International Symposium: Brain Function and Dysfunction,
The Royal Society, May 14th, 2004. Summary Michael Crawford for the
7. The Rev. Simon House, member McCarrison Society
8. The McCarrison Society
9. Avon Study, report Sunday Times 3/8/04
10. McCarrison Society Newsletter, August 2003
11. Rev. Simon House, “Nourishing Brains for Mental Gains,”
McCarrison society newsletter, Spring 2004 email@example.com
12. Professor Greg Cole, University of California, Los Angeles, senior
author of paper in the journal Neuron “A diet rich in DHA,
or docosahexaenoic acid, dramatically reduces the impact of the Alzheimer’s
13. Rev. Simon House, “Nourishing Brains for Mental Gains,”
McCarrison Society Newsletter, Spring 2004
14. Rev. Simon House, booklet Nutrition and Health, 2000, Vol.
14, Generating Healthy People. Publication for McCarrison Society
15. Institute of HeartMath www.heartmath.com see also HeartMath training
in Europe, the Hunter Kane Resource Management, 26 Broad Street, Wokingham
Berks RG40 1AB
16. I am indebted to Dr. Peter Fenwick, Senior lecturer at the Institute
of Psychiatry, London, for this information.
17. Massage in Schools, tel: 07773 044282 – Daily Telegraph, July
6th, 2004 . See also Antonella Sansome’s book below
18. They are nine times as likely to become violent if they carry the
MAOA gene but this does not correlate with violence unless triggered
by abuse. Rev. Simon House, McCarrison society Newsletter Christmas
2002, “Genes, Fish and the Brain”.
19. Article, the Times, July 3rd, 2004 “The Kindegardeners”.
See Oliver Quibell commmunity infant school, Newark, Notts. Maggie Brown,
Organic Gardens for Schools – offers practical advice
and seeds. See also Angela Verity, Scotholme Primary School, Nottingham.
She has transformed a derelict allotment into an organic garden for
20. Values Education: developing positive attitudes. ISBN 1 898908 76
1 £5. Curriculum and Entitlement Office, Oxfordshire County Council
Education Office, Cricket Road, Oxford, OX4 3DW
report in Positive News, No. 41, Autumn 2004. www.positivenews.org.uk
Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger, A Child is Born, Doubleday,
£25 www.booksattransworld.co.uk new edition 2004. ISBN 0-385-60671
(essential reading for all parents-to-be as well as for older children)
Sue Gerhardt, Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s
Brain, Brunner-Routlege, London, 2004 £9.99
Antonella Sansome, Mothers, Babies and their Body Language Karnac
Books, London, 2004
McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health. Dr. Michael Crawford, Editor,
0207 973 4869 firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Simon House, email@example.com
Daniela F. Sieff, Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma, Routledge, London 2015
Seminar 6: The Child and the Parental Relationship
This article is an extended version of the previous talk.
Prayer Before Birth
I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat
or the clubfooted ghoul come near me.
I am not yet born; console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
With strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
On black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.
I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk to me,
sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me…
I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
When they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
Hands, my death when they live me….
I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
Come near me.
I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me
Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me,
Otherwise kill me.
The tiny, vulnerable body of a baby is an expression the
miraculous nature of life, ever renewing itself through the union of
male and female. It holds the hope for the continuation of our own life,
our unlived potential, all that we have been unable to live in our own
lives. It calls forth our deepest feelings - both the best and the worst.
It may evoke our love, caring, devotion or our hatred, rejection, cruelty.
The child will carry many projections from both parents: hopes, plans,
the longing for it to flourish, the fear that it will not. He or she
may carry the burden of the injured or destroyed emotional life of parents
who may vent their rage and hatred upon its fragile soul and body or
it may be nourished by the loving care of parents who are able to respond
instinctively, patiently, to its physical and emotional needs.
Each child who comes into the world is
a soul entrusted to our care. As mother and father we reflect for the
child the two great feminine and masculine principles or archetypes
of life. How we relate as parents to each other and to our child is
of the greatest importance for the child's future health, balance and
well-being as an adult. The mother and father connect their child with
the deeper levels of life by the values which influence their own lives
and by the quality of their relationship with each other and with their
child. It is through the quality of their care and their attention to
their child's emotional needs as well as physical ones that they transmit
the values which will enable their child to survive and flourish in
the world and to care in turn for the lives entrusted to it.
Do we value our children?
Child Running in a Landscape,
Odilon Redon, c.1864/5
Musee du Louvre, Paris
In this country (the United Kingdom) we give generously
to humanitarian tragedies all over the world and to all kinds of animal
charities yet we have the worst record in Europe for caring for our
children. Childline answered over 1.5 million calls in the year April
2000 to March 2001. What does this say about the suffering of our children?
What is the effect on them of divorce, one parent families, step-fathers
or mothers, television violence and the values absorbed through the
media and in schools? What is the effect of many women's total lack
of preparation for motherhood, of any basic knowledge of nutrition or
of how to prepare food, and care for a home?
This country is way behind other countries
in Western Europe in the provision of good housing, preventive health
care and, above all, preparing men and women for the role of parenthood.
We have the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe.
We also lag behind in attending to the physical and emotional wellbeing
of the mother during and immediately after pregnancy and in the first
year after giving birth. For example, the general practice is to discharge
first time mothers the day after giving birth and mothers who already
have children on the same day (except after a Caesarian) and send them
home, where they are expected to carry on as before, possibly caring
for other children as well as their new baby without sufficient rest
and without the certainty of physical and emotional support (except
that provided by the midwife) from their own mothers, relatives or friends.
Family support may be available but frequently it is not available or
is inadequate. Nothing is more frightening for a young mother than to
find herself alone without any real knowledge of how to care for her
baby and herself, with a partner who is equally unsure of himself, who
may wish to absent himself from the domestic scene or who has already
abandoned it. Is it surprising that so many marriages end in divorce
or that young mothers succumb to post-natal depression – something that
is still insufficiently recognised, anticipated and sensitively treated?
The Roots of the Problem
The last decade has brought ever more dreadful revelations
about what has been brushed under the social carpet: the number of children
secretly murdered by their parents (believed to be three a week); the
children who have died atrocious deaths because of the failure of the
Social Services to recognise and act on the symptoms of abuse; the sexual
and emotional abuse of children in the care of Social Services; the sexual abuse of
children by parents and others; the physical and emotional abuse of
women by men in front of their children. All these have existed for
generations yet now, suddenly and fortunately they are coming to light,
attracting our attention, arousing our concern, our guilt, our desire
to be more aware, more responsive to the need to put an end to these
I doubt if any of these would have come
to our attention without the existence of psychotherapy and the training
of many counsellors and psychotherapists to recognise the symptoms of
distress and abuse. For centuries, owing to the general belief that
women deserved to be held in a state of subjection to their husbands,
they were beaten by them. For centuries men have inflicted and are still
inflicting injuries on women and children while under the influence
of alcohol. For centuries alcohol was the only solace for men and women
living in the most dreadful conditions imaginable. Only recently have
women been able to gather enough sense of self-worth to emerge from
this nightmare. Yet it was not only women from an impoverished background
who suffered these traumas, but women from every social class (see the
biography of Lord Carman by his son).
My personal view, derived from my study
of the history of persecution by the Christian Church in Europe, is
that one of the deepest roots of the abuse of and cruelty towards women
and children lies in the Christian doctrine of Original Sin (see seminar
3 website: annebaring.com). With this doctrine, the Church unconsciously
justified and condoned the abuse of women (particularly during the centuries
of the trial and burning/hanging of witches). There have been centuries
of brutal, alcoholic fathers who ruled their families with a rod of
iron and centuries of brutalised, "victim" mothers who were told that
their "lot" was to suffer in silence and who were unable to change the
unbearable circumstances of their lives. It is estimated even now that
up to 40% of women still suffer emotional and physical abuse from their
partners. On top of this religious and social programming there was
the effect of the Industrial Revolution and the movement to cities of
huge numbers of people living in overcrowded conditions of atrocious
poverty and deprivation.
Two world wars killed millions of young
men in Europe. Imagine the effect of these wars: the loss of life; the
widows, the children conceived and then left without fathers; the survivors
of the enslavement of whole populations in eastern Europe; the return
home of exhausted and often deeply disturbed men, unable to speak of
their experiences, preferring to bury all memory of them for the rest
of their lives. Imagine the emotional distress of women who lost their
husbands — in those days the sole provider. From one day to another
they had to think of how they were going to survive; how they were going
to help their children to survive. A war widow's pension in this country
was and is a contemptible sum, not enough to provide any kind of life
or security for a family. (How little money is spent on nurturing life
in comparison with that spent on the weapons that bring death).
The result of these various historical
factors has been the physical and emotional impoverishment of generations
of women and children (mainly, but not entirely, in the poorest section
of the community). Women, ravaged by exhaustion, alcohol, violence and
emotional abuse, could not offer a safe and healthy environment for
a child. There was no concept of perinatal care. There is still hardly
any awareness in society as a whole of the need for women to prepare
for the child, helping them to be in as healthy a state as possible,
eating foods that will nourish both mother and child, avoiding smoking,
drinking alcohol or coffee to excess.
Until very recently, women were undervalued
by society. During the war they were expected to help with the war effort,
to work on the land or in munitions factories, filling jobs left vacant
by the men who were fighting, and then, after the war, to return to
their homes and take up their former role as wives and wives. Many women
discovered qualities and capabilities in these years that they did not
know they had. After the war, they wanted to continue to develop these
gifts. Many went to universities and became highly qualified intellectually.
Men returned from the war to find women changed, wanting to play a wider
role in society, no longer content to be "only a mother". Contraception
was another factor that radically altered women's lives. The old image
of woman has gone forever. We have still not assimilated the implications
of this enormous change which has had both positive and negative effects.
Collective attitudes that have prevailed for centuries are being transformed
but it is difficult for men and women to be aware of what is happening
rather than to be swept along by the social attitudes that are currently
Parenting, as most of us who are parents know, is the
most long term and dedicated commitment any of us can make in our life
time. It requires long years of devoted care, constant vigilance, and
emotional and physical effort to bring a human being from infancy to
adulthood. Until they become parents themselves, or unless they are
part of a large family, children usually have not the slightest idea
of what parenting involves. Most mothers do their best within their
physical and emotional capacity. Many mistakes are made or were made
through ignorance or depression or circumstances beyond control but
with insight, support and good-will they can be corrected in a new generation.
Strangely, there is no preparation in
our society for the role of being a parent. Parenting is thought to
be an instinctive pattern of behaviour and, in essence, it is. What
is not understood is that it is also a learned one that is unconsciously
copied or absorbed by the child as it grows up from the way its
parents, but particularly its mother, treated it. If the mother (or
the father) has suffered an emotional injury or wound in her own infancy
or childhood, her (or his) pattern of parenting is likely to be flawed
or inadequate and she (or he) will pass on that pattern to her child.
Today, with a quarter to a third of marriages or relationships breaking
down, the instinctive pattern of parenting transmitted from parent to
child is likely to be broken, disturbed and deeply flawed. It has been
flawed in the past for reasons of poverty, religious indoctrination
(in the negative, authoritarian sense) and lack of education. But today,
in addition, there is the absence of any moral influence on parental
behaviour and a general lack of responsibility towards the child who
is often casually brought into the world without thought or preparation
and expected somehow to survive. In the past this moral influence came
from the Church. Men and women talk about their rights in relation to
conceiving or adopting a child but there is scant awareness of emotional
responsibilities or of the rights of the child which ought, in my view,
to come first.
How unconsciously such a precious being
is usually conceived - a being so vulnerable, so dependent on our care
and love for its happiness and health. How casually a child may be carried
in the womb of a mother who has no awareness of the need to prepare
her body and her psyche for this new being. There is very little understanding
among men or women that the future health and happiness of their child
is enhanced, perhaps even created by this vital preparation.
How little knowledge there also is of
the importance of the child having two parents committed to its well
being; aware of its need for relationship with both mother and father
in order for it to have a balanced psyche and the possibility of being
able to communicate with and relate to both men and women as it grows
older. To be abandoned by one parent - usually the father in today's
society - deprives it of a role model and an image of relationship between
male and female. Two streams of life, two different streams of energy
coming from the mother and father are reduced to one. While many single-parent
mothers and fathers (there are now 140,000 of such fathers) do their
best to bring up their children, and fiercely defend their ability to
do so, how can this deprivation not be an impoverishment of the child's
experience of what it is to be human? Sometimes bereavement inflicts
this impoverishment and the child carries a deep wound. But so many
children in our society carry the wound of rejection through divorce
or the multiple relationships entered into by their parents, a rejection
which might not be necessary if there was more recognition of the responsibility
of the paternal and maternal role before a man and a woman conceive
or adopt a child.
Some mothers are so psychically fragile
that they have children in order to have someone to love them. Some
fathers have such a deep need for attention from their partners that
they become jealous of their children as soon as they are born, unable
to stand the focus of their wives' care and concern moving from themselves
to their child. Fathers who have received poor maternal care are particularly
vulnerable to this jealousy which is rooted in unconscious anger that
their own infant receives the love they themselves were deprived of.
Mothers who did not have sufficient emotional support from their own
mothers may lack any confidence in their ability to care for their child
or to manage domesticity with either skill or pleasure.
The casual way in which sexual relationships
are entered into in today's society creates children who feel unwanted,
unloved; who have to accept step-fathers and step-mothers who may not
love them as much as the children created in the new partnership; who
will feel themselves to be second-best in the new cycle of relationships,
second best in relation to their mothers whose life is focused on the
new partner, second best in relation to new siblings. The dysfunctional
lives of media stars offer a poor example to the young. These different
factors, which are largely unconscious, contribute to the suffering
we inflict on our children.
The foundations of a happy or unhappy
life and of positive or negative relationships are laid in childhood
and in the relationship of the parents with each other and with their
child. Many of the social problems we are now facing derive not only
from poverty and poor education but from emotionally deprived infants
and children who, as adolescents and adults, re-enact in their own lives
and their behaviour towards others what they absorbed from their parents'
behaviour towards each other and towards their children. So the pattern
of good or bad parenting affects the wider community and is passed on
to the next generation.
The Failure of Relationships
If a woman is unsure of herself, lacking respect for
herself and unaware of her own deepest values and instincts, she will
find it difficult to choose a partner who will care for her and their
children. She may be insensitive to her children's needs because she
has no awareness of her own. They will grow up deprived of that initial
instinctive bonding with a mother and father and the love which would
enable them to survive as strong and vital human beings, giving them
a deep trust in themselves and their ability to make rewarding relationships
with others as they grow up.
How can a woman who grows up in this society
value herself as a woman? How can she avoid being imprinted with the
superficial values and patterns of behaviour that currently form collective
attitudes and values? How can she look forward to and enjoy the experience
of being a mother or, indeed, discover how to be a mother in such a
complex world? Her sons and daughters lie on our streets, abandoned
and outcast, children so deprived of love and support from their own
mothers and fathers that they cannot value their own lives, and succumb
to drugs and promiscuity.
Why are there so many broken marriages
in our society, so many abandoned children? A pattern of abandonment
and rejection may be a re-enactment of the parents' own early experience.
Those who have experienced these traumas may have the greatest difficulty
in bonding with their child. They may have had no role model to follow.
The instinct for relationship has been traumatised and without awareness
of this situation, and help in understanding and transforming it, the
trauma will be repeated in the next generation. Obviously, there are
many variations in this pattern.
Here is one example of the kind of scenario
that exists in today's society. A couple marry; both have jobs. They
want to own their own home. They find a house which requires a large
mortgage. Both parents work in order to support the mortgage. They decide
to have a baby and start one without thinking about how they are going
to look after it. The baby arrives; because the mother is working full
time, she asks her sister-in-law, who has two children of her own, to
look after it during the day. The baby bonds with the sister-in-law
and her children. The mother is hurt and angry that the baby cries when
it is taken away by her at night. Its crying keeps the parents awake.
The mother feels rejected by the baby and hits it when it cries, at
times flinging it away from her in anger. The sister-in-law finds she
is pregnant again and can no longer cope with the baby (now nine months
The mother now asks her own mother to
look after the baby during the day. The mother (who has a history of
alcoholism), agrees but the arrangement comes to an end after a couple
of months. The mother turns to her mother-in-law, asking her to come
to her house every day to be with the baby while she is at work. She
cannot give up her job because she needs the money to keep up the payments
on the mortgage, the car, the furniture. She cannot sleep at night and
is put on Prozac by her doctor. The marriage comes under increasing
strain. Her mother-in-law, distressed by the baby's increasing signs
of emotional disturbance, and driven by her own sense of guilt if she
is not looking after everyone save herself agrees to look after her
but this means giving up the job she enjoys and the income and independence
it has given her, helping her to pay off old debts accumulated during
the years of bringing up her own three children. She is deeply upset
to leave her job but sacrifices her needs in order to respond to her
son and daughter-in-law's appeal for help. After six months, the arrangement
breaks down under the increasing resentment of the baby's mother towards
her mother-in-law. Under these circumstances, what possible chance has
the baby of growing up to be happy, well-adjusted in its relationships
Understanding the child
The child is our future and it is only through a deepening
understanding of the child's nature and needs that we can hope to change
the negative inheritance of the past. What wounds the heart of a child?
There is a general belief that children are resilient, tough, able to
survive the most atrocious experiences. But the experience of therapists
suggests that this is not so. The child may survive physically and intellectually,
may be able to hold its own in the world, but the wound to the heart
will show in the difficulty it has with relationships; in the way, as
an adult, it treats its partner or its children, and in depressions,
obsessions and compulsive negative behaviour of all kinds. It will develop
a defensive carapace, a false self, in order to survive the pain of
its experience and may believe this false self is its true individuality.
The false self in league with the superficial goals of our culture,
will drive the person to seek power and control over others through
a pattern of bullying or manipulating others, for to be more powerful
or in control of other people is to be beyond the reach of the child's
sense of powerlessness and worthlessness. Alternatively, it will be
enacted in the role of the victim who is repeatedly drawn to an abusive
or defective partner or a negative life situation.
The psyche of the child is like warm wax.
Its sense of self is barely formed by the time it reaches adolescence.
It is impressionable, fragile, sensitive, vulnerable. What it absorbs
from the atmosphere of the home and the wider environment of school
and society, is imprinted indelibly on the memory. Children without
a stable and happy home, children who have to survive in a brutal or
depraved environment, often witnessing the emotional or physical cruelty
inflicted on one parent by another, children who are exposed to the
anger, lust, cruelty or the rigidly imposed belief system of their parents,
step-parents or foster parents, are like a baby thrown into an abattoir.
They have little hope of psychic survival. Indeed, as someone has written,
they are the victims of soul murder.(1) As they
grow up, the memories of intolerable pain are repressed into the nervous
system and muscles where they may manifest eventually as a defence system
that inhibits the ability to experience empathy for others, and also
as habits that lead to illness. There may be no awareness of the actual
circumstances or traumas which wounded them. These repressed memories
may be re-enacted in destructive or self-destructive scenarios
which are a kind of code language telling the story of what happened
to them 10, 20 or 30 years earlier (2)
Children in the first months and years
of their lives, need the constant care and attention of at least one
adult, preferably two. If they are separated too early from their mothers,
put into nurseries and day-care, the deep and essential primal bond
with the mother is weakened, perhaps broken. John Bowlby has written
with the greatest authority about the effects of maternal deprivation
in infancy and early childhood. It is astonishing that his work does
not seem to have reached the consciousness of women about to embark
on becoming a mother. (3) Hundreds of studies
have shown that the quality of care a child receives in the first months
and years of life determines its capacity to make relationships in later
life. (4) (see Oliver James, the Independent 17/11/98).
A Secret Garden - Delight in Life
Each child carries a secret garden within herself, the
sensitive core of her being. The primary job of a parent is to keep
this garden of the heart alive and flourishing, planting seeds that
will grow into plants and trees and flowers until the child himself
can take over the job of being gardener to his own soul. In some children,
this garden may become shut away behind a high wall, inaccessible even
to the child who may lose the key that enables him to pass to and fro
between the garden of his heart and the outer world.
Awareness of the external world comes
slowly into focus from the deep ground of the soul: "In the child, consciousness
rises out of the depths of unconscious psychic life, at first like separate
islands, which gradually unite to form a continent, a continuous land-mass
of consciousness. Progressive mental development means, in effect, extension
of consciousness." (4) Joy, the feeling of delight
in life, the feeling that life is mysterious, marvellous and magical
is every child's birthright and the key to being in touch with both
the imagination (the heart) and the world. Joy and trust are feelings
that naturally belong to earliest childhood. A child's bright, shining
eyes reflect this joy and trust. If joy and trust are killed, the key
to the garden is lost. The whole art of parenting consists in the ability
to nurture this sense of delight, enthusiasm and trust in life. The
whole art of healing is the ability to help oneself or another to re-discover
this key, to re-experience the spontaneous delight in life of a happy
well-nurtured childhood. (see the example of the Queen Mother's childhood).
This means removing the guilt, fear and grief that have caused it to
be lost. It means changing the unconscious programming of the nervous
Joy is something that most of us have
had a glimpse of. But as we grow older, we tend to feel it less and
less and substitute pleasure or material things to compensate us for
that unbearable loss. We may destroy it in our children by putting an
end to their imaginative playing, substituting competitive goal-seeking
instead. We may destroy the very activity that could nourish their instinctive
life, out of which could develop their future balance, happiness and
creative work. We may allow them insufficient time for fantasy and play,
no time just to be, giving them too early a sense of hurry and striving,
or failure and disappointment, believing that we are helping them to
"face reality" and become equipped for life. But the reality we force
them to face up to is our reality, not theirs. Their view of life may
not be allowed to grow and flourish because there is no time or space
for it to do so. Under the pressure of society's goal-seeking competitive
ethos, parents may fear that without access to a good education, their
children may falter in the race of life. Yet too much emphasis on succeeding
at school as the atmosphere in the parental home can make children conform
too quickly and compete against each other too early and this pressure
may deflect the instinct from its natural path and destroy the innate
and instinctive desire to discover and explore, and their trust in themselves
When the child enters the wider world
of society already damaged by the home situation, and finds an impersonal,
frightening environment (too many children in a school or a classrooom)
and a curriculum devoted to the achievement of goals, where there is
no beauty or mystery or magic, no nourishment for the heart, it will
again be traumatised and the neglected imagination will be channelled
into negative fantasies. The pathology of violence presented on television,
film and video will increase the sense of fear and powerlessness, for
what children watch, night after night, in scenes of sadistic violence,
is the spectacle of the desecration of the soul, which is, ultimately,
their own desecration. Consciously, people may say that children don't
copy the negative mythology they see, but this is too literal and simplistic
an approach to the issue. Unconsciously their instinct (limbic
brain or autonomic nervous system) absorbs violent, barbaric images
and unconsciously it identifies with the aggressor as the only
way to survive. In a society which is increasingly brutal, brutality
becomes an admired pattern of behaviour, tied in to survival instincts
which are activated by society's inability to protect children from
bullying and violence. (relate this to the number of young males in
Children whose feelings did not matter
to their parents will, as adults, ignore their own feelings and those
of others. Compulsively, in addictive or manipulative behaviour of all
kinds, they will repeat or re-enact the original trauma by attracting
to themselves situations or relationships that punish them, traumatise
them, destroy them (see article at end of notes). They may also, by
unconsciously identifying with the aggressor who wounded them, wound
their own chosen victims - always someone weaker than themselves, making
them suffer the intensity of the pain they are enduring themselves.
The child is the weakest element in society and will suffer the most
from this behaviour. Some commit suicide or run away from home because
they do not know how to survive the fear and trauma caused by school
The Child in the Womb and the Experience of Birth
The foetus in the womb registers everything the mother
is experiencing - her happiness and delight in her growing child, her
distress, her fear, her anxiety. It is affected by alcohol, smoking,
drugs, anger and violence and tension in the parental relationship,
and is sensitive to music, noise and the quality of the environment
the mother is experiencing. Care and a good diet and an unstressful
environment during the first three months of pregnancy are vital
for the formation of a happy and healthy child, for it is during these
months that the basic structure of the nervous system is formed. This
structure includes the development of the heart cells, 65% of which
are neural cells. The brain develops from a mass of undifferentiated
heart cells before they form into the four cardiac chambers. The heart
is connected to all the vital organs of the body and is linked to the
cognitive and learning processes.
1. In the watery dimension of the womb the experience
of the foetus may be a feeling of supreme bliss or a feeling of constant
anxiety or something in between. These feelings may lead in later
life to self-esteem, the ability to communicate with other people
and the deeper aspects of life, happiness and creativity (love of
water and swimming) or to self-disgust, self-abuse and the feeling
that life is against one (fear of life, water etc.). Think of how
many women were terrified of dying in childbirth until very recently
and how that anxiety was transmitted to the foetus during the birth
process. Think of how many young women died of puerperal fever after
childbirth in the past. These old fears linger in the unconscious.
So the first question to ask in pregnancy is: "what do I feel about
this child?" Am I looking forward to the birth or am I full of anxiety,
fear or resentment? Secondly, what am I doing to care for myself and
provide the best internal and external environment for my baby? Thirdly,
what is my relationship with my partner like? Do I feel reassured
by his interest and support or anxious because these are lacking?
2. the first stage of birth for the child gives rise
to feelings of helplessness, of being stuck and confined within a
narrow, unyielding space. The foetus cannot move and there is no way
it can know that this constriction will end. A long protracted birth
amplifies these feelings.
3. the propulsion through the birth canal is experienced
as a titanic struggle with powerful forces that crush one and hold
one in a vice-like grip.
4. the release of the birth itself brings feelings of
expansion, ecstasy, light, warmth and the bliss of being in touch
with the mother's body. See the books of Drs. Michel Odent and Leboyer
(5) for how to give the infant a good experience
of birth. Not holding the newly born infant upside down; a calm, dark
environment. The mother sitting in warm water during stage 2 and 3
can help both mother and baby. Warm water, quiet, and a semi-dark
room (no bright overhead lights) help the mother to relax and allow
her instincts to guide the whole process. They also help mother and
infant to bond after birth.
It used to be thought until very recently that foetuses
and infants do not feel pain. But we now know that the infant can feel
constriction, pain and suffocation, particularly in a protracted or
difficult birth. The work of Stanislav Grof has shed enormous light
on previously unrecognised birth trauma.(6) The
buried cellular and muscular memory of the experience of constriction,
suffocation and excruciating pain can be reactivated by any difficult
life experience. "I will never get out of this mess." "I am stuck in
a trap." "Nothing good will ever happen to me." "I will not be able
to survive." (often constriction in chest area; inability to breathe).
Danger programmes us to one of three responses: fight,
flight or paralysis
The kind of birth we have had can programme us to responding
to a life situation with a tendency to fight, flight or paralysis. (The
third response has not received anything like the attention required.
I believe it lies at the root of depression in later life). In therapy,
this primal terror can be embodied in the image of a spider or an octopus,
for example, and this image can help to heal the trauma if it can be
imagined, discussed, related to the trauma and eventually accepted without
fear. The chemical constellation in the nervous system can be changed.
This process of healing through relating to the image sends a message
to the nervous system to relax so that the effect of the original traumatic
memory can be transformed.
The Child and the Mother
The child starts life in a state of psychic identification
with its mother. Only very gradually does it send out the small shoots
of awareness and relationship which eventually lead to the development
of a conscious ego or sense of self. The sense of self develops (by
age 3 approximately) through the child responding to its mother and
father, then becoming aware of its immediate surroundings (through crawling
and exploring), then encountering the world of ideas, feelings and values,
discovering through experience and interaction with others that 'this
feels safe', 'this feels dangerous', 'this feels nice', 'this feels
nasty', 'this hurts' etc. The mother at the beginning of the child's
life is experienced as the whole, the oneness of being. Through her
bond with her child the mother mediates the instinctive connection or
sense of relationship with this whole.
In the past the mother was the primary
link to this deep psychic ground of life. The father acted more to connect
the child with the external world and to establish him in it by helping
him to find a profession, particularly in the case of a son. In the
last 50 years this situation has changed radically. Fathers can be extraordinarily
nurturing, given the time and the opportunity to be with their children.
Daughters as well as sons need help in getting established in the world
but they also need connection to their inner world. With both parents
working outside the home, and having very little time to spend with
their children in the home, above all to spend time enjoying their company
and talking to them, this connection can be lost. Because it has been
lost, children founder in their efforts to find a secure foothold at
school and in the wider community and to form rewarding relationships
with men and women in later life. Their primary response at the unconscious
level is anxiety and fear and the activation of instinctive responses
to danger (fight/flight/paralysis).
Women's inability to value themselves
as mothers because society does not value them in this role has deeply
injured them and their children. The focus of society is now on the
professional woman and women are programmed to seek professional status
and see the greatest value in their professional role rather
than their maternal one. Women have for so long been regarded
as inferior and regarded themselves as inferior to men that they have
come to give inferior status to motherhood in relation to the professional
career that gives them equal status with men. Many women today look
upon and experience motherhood as a confining, secondary, boring and
lonely experience which interferes with their work or career or the
need to earn their living. This view of motherhood is partly fuelled
by the desire to follow the male model of achieving power, success and
a place in the world but also by the need to discover their specific
individual gifts and to express them as fully as possible. There is
great social pressure on them to do this and many enjoy their professional
life and the relationships this brings. But, instinctively, they
also want the experience of motherhood. This puts them under great stress
as they try to squeeze both demanding roles into the space of 20 or
30 years. The greater their intellectual gifts, the greater may be their
unconscious rejection of the role of motherhood, their sense of
frustration and conflict, and their resentment at the ties their children
place on them. Conversly, there are many mothers who have (for financial
reasons) to go out to work but who would love to be able to stay at
home with their babies and young children. And there are thousands of
single mothers who would love to train for a profession but who cannot
afford to pay for child care.
Some women discover too late that they
want a baby and deeply regret having put their profession before embarking
on being a mother (see Baby Hunger correspondence). It is physically
and emotionally very arduous for a woman to have a job and to look after
several children. What may be sacrificed is their relationship with
their partner, their children and their own health. There is simply
no time and insufficient emotional and physical strength to attend to
each of these aspects of their life adequately. Today financial necessity
and social pressure force many mothers into full-time work but the strain
imposed on them by the lack of domestic help, or an extended family
to provide a reliable mother-substitute to care for the children takes
its toll. Nannies and au pairs (often left in sole charge of children)
don't stay for a long time with a family in the way they used to and
children whose mother is working full-time experience emotional deprivation
when the primal carer leaves, often frequently. This is not to say that
any of this is wrong, simply that it places enormous strain on women
and on their relationships. Eventually we may find a better way of balancing
The Importance of Bonding
We are born, so to speak, into the presence of our mother.
Absence of the mother due to emotional or physical withdrawal, severe
depression, death or abandonment means alienation, loss, disorientation.
Dr. John Bowlby, writing in the 1950's was the first person to draw
attention to the effects of maternal deprivation (7) He had a great influence on psychotherapy but his discoveries
have even now not reached the general public and many parents are still
not aware of the effect of their leaving their child when very young,
even for a few days. Until the age of 4 or 5 small children have no
sense of time. Instinctive memory tells them that absence of the mother
means abandonment. Their visceral anguish when their mother is away
for even a few days is heartrending to behold. Bowlby found that infants
or small children who had lost their mothers through death or abandonment
developed depression in later life. They did not recover from the trauma
of separation. Unbelievably, children in this country used to be sent
to boarding school as young as 4 years old with catastrophic effects
on their capacity to relate to others both physically and emotionally
later in their lives. I hope this is no longer the case but fear that
it may still happen.
Establishment of Neuronal Pathways
We are born into life as relating beings. The first relationship
is with the mother: we are in the womb for nine months; after birth
we can become bonded to her if she can respond to our need for relationship
with her. Importance of eye contact, skin contact, the sound of her
voice. (helpfulness of body massage and cranial osteopathy to correct
birth injuries to head and nervous system, particularly after a lengthy
or forceps birth). Studies by the neuropsychologist James Prescott have
shown the long-term effects of successful bonding or the lack of it
in the relationship of the mother and father to the infant. These showed
that neural circuits are damaged through rejection or abandonment of
the child. The degree of bonding depends on the amount of attention
given to the physical and emotional needs of the infant and growing
child. Feelings of pleasure and gratification arise in the infant when
three basic systems - trust, touch and smell - are integrated. Disorientation,
violence and emotional disturbance develops when they are not. (8)
The instinctive bonding between mother
and child - the experience of unity, relationship and wholeness is essential
for the future healthy functioning of the child's instincts. It is
the emotional and physical bonding between mother and infant that establishes
and develops the neuronal pathways throughout the body/mind organism.
Sense of trust and safety; seeing, touching; listening; tasting;
smelling. If these are established in a contented infancy, the neuronal
circuits are grounded in the experience of pleasurable bonding, relatedness
and love and there will be the possibility of a healthy integration
of the three brain systems (reptilian, mammalian and neocortical) and
a further development of the pathways in the frontal lobes. If there
is disruption of bonding between mother and child, and the experience
of fear and revulsion at the limbic (instinctive level of autonomic
nervous system) in early infancy as a result of rejection, withdrawal
or abandonment, then healthy instinctual development will not take place.
If the bonding is incomplete or deficient, the growing child will remain
negatively fixed at the limbic, instinctive level, experiencing constant
anxiety that will affect his or her ability to make and sustain good
relationships and to flourish in some chosen profession. The body's
experience is transmitted to the neuronal pathways and expresses itself
as moods, negative emotions, unconscious self-criticism, self-destructive
patterns of behaviour etc. However, it should be borne in mind that
if another person takes over the role of carer and is loving and nurturing,
the maternal bond can be established with that person, as has been shown
in cases where the orphaned or abandoned child has been successfully
"Through the harmony between the child's own rhythm and
that of the mother - who in the primal relationship is experienced as
identical with its own - the mother's image becomes representative of
both the inner and the outer world…The root of the earliest and most
basic morality is to be sought in the harmony between the still unsplit
total personality of the child and the Self which is experienced through
In the child's experience, the mother or primal carer
The containing matrix
The primary agent helping the child to connect with the immediate environment.
The person who connects the child with the deeper instinctive ground
of the soul.
The development of the limbic
system (reptilian and mammalian brain) in earlier phases of evolution
put in place structures which allowed vocalisation to develop. The infant's
cry attracts the mother to it and her response develops trust and empathy
and bonding in the infant. The transcendent experience of intense bliss
comes from the limbic system; the infant can know these feelings in
the womb and in the first few moments of being reconnected with the
mother after birth and close contact with her body throughout infancy:
Feelings of unity
Joy, peace, bliss.
Foundation of later feelings of trust and love
Foundation for later delight in life.
A good mother/child bond contributes towards
Adds meaning to the world
Develops the capacity for empathy
Nourishes the imagination
Every cell has several branchings
off it (dendrons). The more you use the cells the more connecting dendrons
develop. They develop complexity by use. If they aren't used, they can
be lost. The mother's holding and responding to her infant is vital
to the development of these dendrons. Care and bonding with the mother
or primal carer are absolutely essential in the first 10 months.
Frustration makes the heart rate jagged
Appreciation, stroking, caressing, makes it rhythmic
From 3-10 months a culling takes place with the loss of 50,000 connections
(not cells) every second. Cells that are not used during this time die.
Good mothering helps the cells to be active. (I am indebted to Dr. Peter
Fenwick, Senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, for
Communication between the
heart and the brain is critically important for the well-being of the
child. Recent research has shown that the intelligence and well being
of the heart is of primary importance to many processes, including cognition.
It has over 40,000 sensory neurons. It has its own independent nervous
system. The electrical signal of the heart is 60% more powerful than
the electrical signal of the brain. The electro-magnetic field of the
heart is 500 times more powerful than that of the brain and extends
(in the adult) 10 feet beyond the body. Just putting the hand over the
heart area changes the brain waves. The heart produces a balancing hormone
- oxytocin, the bonding hormone - and this hormone is activated in a
loving and nurturing maternal environment. (10)
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem, Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;-
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more!
The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose, -
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth…'
Wordsworth - from Ode. Intimations of Immortality
from Recollections of Early Childhood.
is primarily an extension of the mother's containing womb.
In the home the caring mother provides space and time for the child
to become herself or himself. If the mother is in touch with her own
instincts, happy to be herself, valuing her role as mother, she will
lay the foundations for the child's sense of its own value. A mother
who is in love with this tiny, amazing creature - her child, who is
able to make time just to be with it, will help the child to flourish.
Time is absolutely essential for the continuity of this emotional
and physical deep bonding to take place. In the home, the mother can
be 'present' for her child. In the containment of her love and mirroring,
in the touch and smell of her body, the bud of the baby can begin to
flower. "The mother gives to the baby the baby's own self." - the mother
helps the infant and the small child to build up a continuity of being
- its true self.
One of the most difficult things for the
young mother to allow time for is attention to the older child when
a new baby is born - giving special time to that child, and this applies
right the way through. For a mother who has no help of any kind, who
may be a single parent without the help and support of her own mother
or any assistance with shopping and cooking, this need may be an impossible
demand. If society really attended to the needs of the mother, as well
as preparing her for motherhood, much distress and emotional damage
to both her and her child could be avoided.
The importance of play and the imagination in the
Exploring the environment through touch, co-ordinating
hand and eye. The importance of reading fairy tales and making up stories
and having time for this. Answering questions. Contact with animals,
looking at birds, trees, plants, flowers, insects etc. Planting seeds
in the ground and seeing them grow into plants. Helping with cooking,
making bread. Being aware of the child's feelings and helping it to
become aware of them and name them so it can articulate them to you.
Young children cannot express feelings of anxiety and grief and may
show physical symptoms instead (usually pain in the stomach or bloating
and distension after eating food) since body and mind are intimately
The child needs a witness or
mirror for its deepest feelings. In an unhappy home there is no-one
to notice what it is feeling. In therapy the therapist is often the
first and only witness of the child's buried suffering.
Fathers are increasingly participating in the care of
the infant and small child. Sometimes they are the primary carer. Their
role used to be more important in the second stage of the child's life
when it starts school and enters the world beyond the home. The father
is still at the unconscious level (because of the species life experience
of the male) the primary connection to the world of "doing" as opposed
to that of "being." He is still the primary role model for a little
boy to copy. Little girls need his affection and approval and interest
to thrive. A little boy's adoration for his father might be expressed
in words like the following: "I think I loved my daddy before I was
The father's support for the mother is
vitally important during pregnancy and early childhood. If there is
tension and anger between them or if the father is withdrawn, jealous
or aggressive, it makes the mother's role far more difficult. She will
be anxious and tense, possibly depressed, if there is no love and support
flowing to her from her partner during pregnancy and to her and the
child after the birth. After the birth, the child can build up a deep
bond with the father if he is present for the child and takes delight
in being with it. The child is totally dependent on the mirroring it
receives from both parents for its sense of self-worth and, at the deepest
level, for its ability to survive. It will adapt itself to the parents'
demands, even to the parents' cruelty, for the sake of survival but
the child can only come to know itself, like itself and trust itself
through the spontaneous mirroring offered to it by both parents.
If this mirroring is absent or defective, the core of the child's being
is affected and wounded. Feelings may be split off from the conscious
personality which may find refuge in all kinds of behavioural dysfunction
and also, later on, in exclusively intellectual pursuits (such as academic
work or the rigidly objective approach of science) where feelings are
not allowed to intrude on work, or it may become the victim of unconscious
fears and projections which undermine relationships.
The Effects of Fear
Fear of one or the other parent because of emotional
or physical attacks on the child can programme it to become fixated
in one of three responses mentioned above throughout its life: fight,
flight or paralysis. These responses may also be activated if it has
to witness the physical or emotional abuse of one parent by another
over many years. It is the continual helpless witnessing of suffering
and abuse over many years that does the harm to the child's psyche,
not so much the single act (unless it is witnessing a murder or a rape).
The child's main concern is survival and whatever anger, fear or grief
it is feeling may have to be repressed or hidden for fear of punishment.
Children may not be protected by their
mother from a father's violence or abuse because in the mother's own
childhood she witnessed the same pattern of behaviour and is unconsciously
programmed to accept it as "normal." The anger and grief arising from
all kinds of situations and events within the family are projected in
later life onto situations and relationships in the wider field of society.
Higher standards of living do not affect cultural attitudes and beliefs
nor do they necessarily heal the wounds and tragedies that may be transmitted
in families over many generations.
The way the mother treats the father and
the father the mother has a deep influence on the child. Equally, the
way the mother and father value themselves also has an influence on
Two of the most important questions parents could
What was there in my own childhood experience that could lead me to
behave in a way that might be either beneficial or harmful to my partner
What can I do to encourage or transform that experience?
There are 7 primary questions a parent can ask
as a child grows up:
Is my child healthy?
Is my child happy?
Does it communicate well with other children?
Is it able to become pleasurably involved in some kind of activity
that absorbs its attention?
Does it know that I take delight in its existence regardless of what
it is achieving so that it knows my love is not dependent upon its
Does it look forward to each day?
Does it experience me and my partner as a safe person to be with?
Does it know, for example, that I am pleased to see it
when it wakes each morning and each afternoon when it comes home from
school? Am I there to greet it and acknowledge its existence with warmth
and interest or have I no energy or desire or time to do this?
The successful later bonding between man
and woman in later life may be rooted in the earliest feelings of trust
and communion between the growing infant and the parents. At the same
time trust in our ability to survive and the desire to explore, discover,
create, relate to others, extend ourselves are rooted in the same early
experience. I found this passage from a book called A Life in Your
Hands by Dorothy Law Holte which simply and eloquently offers guidelines
to all parents:
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find
love in the world.
The true and false self
Dr. Winnicott developed the concept of the true and false
self. The true self as he saw it, was able to develop in the child who
had adequate parental support and love. The false self developed in
the child who had endured trauma of some kind or another and who had
suffered emotional rejection. It was a constructed defence against the
unbearable pain of the repetition of this trauma. The construction
of the false self is a survival mechanism to ensure protection against
breakdown. But, as Winnicott wrote, "The breakdown that is feared has
already happened." (12) The adult may have no
memory of the childhood trauma but a breakdown in later life (that is
treated with therapy) can help a person to recall the memories of what
originally happened to cause the massive failure of the infant's or
child's defence system and the construction of a false self.
To survive emotional trauma the child
may construct a conforming false self - adjusting itself to the approval
of the parents or foster parents in order to survive, even if they are
physically cruel, emotionally absent or rejecting. This is particularly
so in cases of child abuse where the defence is to survive by withdrawing
from feelings altogether. The child may even accept cruelty and sadistic
abuse as an expression of love, knowing no other pattern of behaviour,
and bonding to that pattern for survival. There is a strong evidence
now that repeated exposure to abuse as a child sets abnormal levels
of certain brain chemicals that express themselves as states of mind
like chronic anxiety, depression or aggressive or self-destructive patterns
of behaviour. In an environment where the child lives in constant fear
of a parent/s over many years, high cortisol levels can lead to the
loss of certain brain cells. Too much tension damages the limbic system
which does most of the brain's learning and remembering. A child can
endure any amount of physical hardship if it feels loved. What it cannot
endure is the anger and rejection and cruelty of a parent. (The psychopath
doesn't recognise pain,. doesn't respond to crying faces, following
the pattern of the mother who consistently did not respond to him when
he was crying, who perhaps hit him when he cried or a consistently abusive
parent who treated him cruelly. This is a controversial suggestion and
may be modified as our knowledge of brain chemistry evolves).
The loss of one parent due to divorce or abandonment
can inflict a deep trauma and may also lead to
the possible demonising of the missing or abandoning parent. This in
turn can lead to the internal demonising of one half of the child who
unconsciously identifies part of itself with the absent and mourned
parent. All badness may be projected onto the absent parent and all
goodness onto the remaining one or vice-versa. This may deeply wound
and polarise the child's psyche and set up a conflict between an internalised
unconscious "negative" voice and the conscious self. (this may be one
root of the inner critic and another cause of depression in later life).
The programming we have received as children
and our consequent view of ourselves, deeply affects
the way we relate to our own children and to our partners. Fear of the
mother or father (who has abandoned or rejected or mistreated the child)
may be reflected in our behaviour patterns later on. We may be unable
to trust another person or may react excessively to a perceived threat.
We may carry anger and resentment or a deep distrust of the opposite
sex which may contaminate our relationships. We may try to escape from
relationships because we feel inadequate to the demands put on us or
are frightened of emotions that we fear may overwhelm us. We may discard
partners and move on to others, looking for the unqualified love and
support we never had as a child.
In men: the fear and distrust of women may be expressed as the
need to abandon them for another partner or as criticism, emotional
or physical cruelty. 'Mother Church' has for centuries been a place
of refuge and safety for men who have been emotionally damaged.
Alternatively, there may be too great a dependency on women; allowing
them to carry their feelings for them. An emotionally insecure man
may be withdrawn from his feelings, jealous of other men and also
of his children taking his partner's attention away from him. This
pattern of unconscious dependence on a woman is often expressed
as manipulation of her feelings, ridiculing her for being "emotional"
and as constant criticism of whatever she does, thereby undermining
her trust in herself.
In women: The fear of and therefore the unconscious need
to control men can be expressed as emotional and physical withdrawal,
rejection. A tendency to manipulate in order to secure attention
and support (affection). Dependency on men. Inability to take care
of themselves in the world or, alternatively, a fierce determination
not to be dependent on a man. Treating men with contempt; trying
to control them; belittling or ridiculing them. A typical "victim"
pattern: I can't do such and such a thing because my husband/partner
doesn't like/want me to. Or, conversely, I'm much better off without
a man. I can manage on my own.
It helps to become aware of a childhood situation where
there was bereavement, abandonment, divorce or a persecuting, rejecting
or depressed parent or parents. In each of these situations, the tendency
is for the child to feel powerless and to blame itself for whatever
has happened. It feels it must have been 'bad' for the parent to have
abandoned it or to be angry with it:
The deepest wounds are inflicted on the child by:
The death of a parent, particularly the mother.
from the mother or abandonment by the mother.
or absence of either parent. Divorce can severely traumatise a child,
losing a parent he or she loves or being "second-best" in relation
to children of a new marriage.
of the child by the parent.
emotionally unstable or withdrawn parent as with alcoholism, depression
or other mental illness.
abusive or violent parent/s.
The child rationalises these events to itself
in terms of saying to itself
It is all my fault
I am bad
I do isn't good enough
I did I shouldn't have done
I must do
more (to bring the parent back to life, back to the home, to rescue
the 'victim' parent, to secure the parent's love, to help the dysfunctional
parent, to bring the parents back together).
A child who is crushed by an overwhelming sense of sorrow,
guilt and badness is full of self-hatred and feelings of inadequacy
because it has been unable to prevent the catastrophe taking place.
These feelings are repressed into the unconscious and set up a regime
of self-punishment which takes the form of constantly confirming
to oneself the feeling of failure and of being unlovable. A persistent
negative internal voice undermines the child's (and the adult's) feeling
of self-worth. Self-hatred and self-criticism are a continual re-infliction
of the original wound. These in turn may lead to the compulsion to offload
unconscious feelings of guilt and unhappiness by hurting or punishing
others, including one's own children. This, I believe, is at the root
of the growing pattern of bullying and violence in schools and the breakdown
of so many marriages. Feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy may also
drive an adolescent to alcoholism, drugs and promiscuity.
Adults believe that values are instilled
in children by religion. But it is far more likely that values are instilled
by the child's observation of how adults respect each other and their
child. The child unblinkingly perceives the hypocrisy of parents who
profess belief in a religious code and behave in a way that contradicts
or belies that code. The more we ask children to look for the answers
to the questions that perplex us in themselves rather than in what they
have been taught to think or believe, the more we may be astonished
by the lucidity and the quality of their perceptions. Rigidity and fixed
belief systems are the second biggest danger for the child: forcing
beliefs on a child distorts its capacity to make its own choices. Influence
is one thing, but forcing a child to conform to the parents' beliefs
is best avoided. Indoctrination may come from religious beliefs, scientific
beliefs, political (tribal) beliefs, new age beliefs, (belonging to
cults), beliefs about diet, fanaticism of all kinds.
The attempt to impose control on the child
through these different systems will have negative effects later on.
The rigidity and compulsion to control in the parents will be transmitted
unconsciously to the child's psyche. In later life that rigidity
and compulsion to control will emerge in a similar pattern of
behaviour although the belief system may be different. For example,
the child of a person who insists on the child believing in God may
become a scientist who insists that there is no such thing as God.
Mothers instinctively have a very deep
bond with daughters because daughters are the future carriers of life
and are preparing themselves for this role from earliest childhood.
Little girls usually show the containing, holding, relating, connecting
instincts that go with motherhood. Little boys are usually more interested
in exploring, building things up and taking them apart, driving tractors
or cars, looking into cupboards and going beyond boundaries. Although
gender specific skills can be rounded out, it is absurd to try to interfere
with or change age-old instinctive tendencies.
The teacher is the second "parental" influence on the
child. He/she is a vitally important role-model for the child. His/her
influence on the child depends on what kind of values he/she has, how
much he/she loves teaching and enjoys encouraging the growth of the
child through communicating enthusiasm for the subject. A teacher can
paralyse a child with fear and cause it to lose its trust and delight
in life or he/she can help a child to build confidence in itself and
discover its capacity to learn things that it thought were difficult
or even impossible. This poem by a 12 year old boy at school in Southampton
shows how a teacher can provide the containing environment in which
a child can dare to express his true feelings:
I hear my inner voice talking to me,
Opening the part of me that I thought was lost.
In this world of cruelty and fear little lights are burning.
Everyone has a flame inside their hearts,
If only they had the courage to find it.
The light can trickle out through a hole in your mind.
When the inside is out
You are transformed and revealed.
There is no need to be afraid,
But be curious
As you will probably never know where the force is coming from.
It is not only the imparting of information but keeping
alive the connection to the imagination that is absolutely vital, nourishing
a sense of connection to the universe, an awareness of a deeper "Presence"
and values that are grounded in a profound respect for life and all
living things. Without this connection, which keeps the imagination
alive and engaged, school becomes boring. Most subjects, but particularly
science, may be taught objectively, with passing exams as the goal,
without engaging our deepest feelings and values and without an awareness
that these are essential to an understanding of life. What should come
through teaching is the realisation that life is a vast and complex
organism of which we are a part. Neither nature nor the human body is
a mechanism to be manipulated as we choose.
Some questions for parents to ask
How can I help my child to find its soul purpose, its creative gift/s?
I help my child to develop emotional intelligence and a balance
between thinking and feeling as it grows up so that both are given
value and recognition?
I help my child's imagination to flourish in the face of the intensive
factual demands of modern education?
I lay the foundation for a strong immune and nervous system and
teach it to respect and care for the body as it grows up, recognising
its symptoms of distress?
Some parents and teachers realise the extent of their
immense power and responsibility to foster life and health and happiness
in the children in their care. Others do not. Some understand the importance
of the home and school as a sanctuary, a place where a child can develop
in safety and security until it is strong enough and confident enough
to take its place in the world. Nothing is more important than providing
the environment in which a child can flourish, discovering its potential
and the kind of activity that brings it delight and satisfaction and
lays the foundation of a creatively lived life. The values that parents
and teachers transmit to children by the quality of their love, care
and attention create civilisation. To hear a child look and act as if
it were happy to be alive is the greatest possible reward a parent or
a teacher can receive.
In the beginning, if parental bonding has gone well, children
instinctively have a passionate interest in everything that is around
them; the light of a joyous interest and enthusiasm shines in their eyes as they
discover and explore their environment. But this light may fade in the
effort to learn facts in ever greater quantity; facts that may have
no meaning for them unless these are imparted by teachers who are in
love with their subject and are not exhausted by the bureaucratic demands
that are the corollary of being a teacher today. There may be no time
or space for relationships and the development of their imagination.
Without close and nourishing relationships throughout childhood the
brutality of a culture that only values power, success and wealth may
destroy or distort their imagination before they have grown to maturity.
Imagination then becomes negative, destructive, manifesting in all kinds
of self-destructive patterns of behaviour and also in bullying and violence
towards other children and society in general. In trying to copy and
compete with others, children may lose the sense of their own individuality
and worth. In trying to adapt to a degenerate and superficial culture,
they may never discover their unique creative gifts. I think it is vitally
important that we help children by:
making a conscious effort to teach adolescents and young parents
about the emotional needs of young children and preparing them for
parenthood and child-rearing (attention to Bowlby).
help and support to young mothers.
a balanced education which nourishes the imagination and a sense
a feeling of safety or sanctuary in our schools, dealing effectively
with bullying and intimidation both through zero tolerance of them
and through giving children insight into what gives rise to this
pattern of behaviour. Meditation (mindfulness), yoga and massage (of each other)
in schools has proved very helpful. Weekly expeditions into the
woods to explore and discover ways of relating to nature have also
aroused tremendous enthusiasm (following the Swedish experience
of the value of this both educationally and emotionally, resulting
in more alert, more focussed and happier children).
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
From Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality
from Recollections of Early Childhood.
1. Shengold, Leonard, Soul Murder, The Effects of
Childhood Abuse and Deprivation, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1989
2. Miller, Alice, The Drama of the Gifted Child, Basic Books,
Inc. 1981. Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, Pluto Press, London, 1985
3. Bowlby, John, Child Care and the Growth of Love, Penguin Books,
1953; Attachment and Loss, Volumes 1 & 2, Hogarth Press, London
1969 and 1973 (other publishers since then).
4. C.G. Jung, The Development of Personality, Collected Works, vol 17
5. Odent, Michel see his Entering the World, Birth Reborn, and
Primal Health; also Leboyer, Charles for his book on childbirth
6. Grof, Stanislav, Beyond the Brain, Suny Press, New York, 1985.
The Holotropic Mind, HarperSan Francisco, 1993
7. Bowlby, John, see above, note (3)
8. J.W. Prescott, The Origins of Human Love and Violence. Pre-and Peri-natal
Psychology Journal, 10 (3): 143-188.
9. Neumann, Erich. The Child, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1963
10. see the work of Dr. Alan Watkins, 5 Tithe Mead, Romsey, Hampshire
SO51 7SD; website: www.heartmath.org and email:
11. Pert, Candace, Molecules of Emotion, Simon and Schuster Ltd.,
12. Winnicott, Donald, The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating
Environment, Hogarth Press, London, 1982
13. Miller, Alice, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware see above, note 2.
also Kalsched, Donald, The Inner World of Trauma, Routledge,
For perinatal care see the updated The Unborn Child:
A New Concept of Care by Roy Ridgeway and Simon House (soon to be
republished by Watkins). Also the current work of Simon House, whose
main interest is in the needs of the unborn child and the care of women
in pregnancy. (Rev. Simon House, 22 Stanley Street, Southsea, Portsmouth
PO5 2DS, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
for the roots of violence in our society, see Felicity
de Zulueta, From Pain to Violence, the Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness,Whurr
Publishers, London 1993 and also Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human
Destructiveness, Penguin Books, London, 1977 (the chapters on Malignant
In Pennsylvania recently, a perceptive judge (Judge Paul
Perachi), trying cases of adolescent crime, has offered disturbed and
violent offenders the choice between going to prison and acting in Shakespeare's
plays. It was found that learning to act in certain plays by Shakespeare
not only encouraged these children to discover capabilities and skills
that they didn't know they had, but to gain confidence in themselves
and a sense of achievement. It also helped them to relate to and contain
violent emotions instead of acting them out in socially disruptive behaviour.
Finally they discovered that they enjoyed this new experience and that
they made new friends. See report in The Times, April 14th,
and May 2nd 2002 (T2).