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A broken system?

I'm Broken Inside (Panorama BBC 11th April 2016) was heartbreaking to watch, seeing how young people needing mental health support are so badly let down in our country by a health care system which is ill-equipped to meet their needs. And the number of children who need support in the UK is greater than ever.

One statistic that stood out for me is that the number of children and young people suffering with depression has doubled since the 1980s. It set me wondering why - what has changed in that time that would make this happen? There are many things, of course - changes in family demographics; the ever-growing tide of technology which absorbs our attention and leaves children and young people more socially isolated than ever, as well as more vulnerable to bullying; the reduction in the amount of time children spend outside because of perceived safety risks... But I believe one of the key changes has been in our education system.

When I trained as a primary school teacher in the 1980s the emphasis was on the child as the focus of the learning process - the 'child-centred learning' which became popular 20 years earlier. It was an approach that valued each person and stressed their individual strengths, learning needs and styles, with a perception that each child should be enabled to achieve his or her potential. It wasn't perfect and had many critics, but it did recognise the child as unique and place them at the heart of what happened in the classroom.

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, the emphasis has gradually shifted - often despite the best efforts of teachers - to put the curriculum and not the child at the centre of the learning process. What you know, rather than how you learn, is what matters - and multiple tests throughout primary school and beyond reinforce that message to children. They are constantly having to strive to meet targets and expectations, and too often living with a fear of failure, and being made aware of that from an early age.
As confident adults secure in our self-worth we might cope with that (although not all of us would); but what impact does a system which applies such pressure and so often reinforces a sense of failing have on the self-image and self-esteem of children and teenagers?

A depressing thought...

The power of words

When talking to parents I sometimes tell the story of how clumsy I was as a child. If there was something to trip over or walk into, I would be the one to do it. I was one of those kids with everlasting scabs on knees and perpetually purple shins. I couldn't catch a ball to save my life (my brother says), and I was always dropping things - I still remember being chosen to serve dinner to a group of young teachers who had come for interview at my school, and tipping a plate full of fish and chips onto the best suit of one of the hopeful candidates.

Not surprisingly, I frequently heard the words 'you're so clumsy'. And as young children do, I believed much so that it took me until I was nearly 40 to stop falling over! The belief that I was clumsy was instilled in me from an early age, and I lived up to it. Such is the power of words.

As parents, we need to think about what we want our children to believe about themselves. If a child repeatedly hears parents and others say 'he's a tearaway', or 'she just can't sit still', this will become their internal monologue, and they will believe themselves to be that person. If, on the other hand, parents note and comment on the good things they see in their child ('you're waiting so patiently'; 'you are so polite') then this is the image a child will build of himself, and the one he will live up to.

The power is in our words!

Can housework wait?

A blogger on a popular parenting website recently expressed her frustration with people telling her that 'housework can wait'. She protested that jobs have to be done, and children need to learn that and not expect their parents to play with them all the time.

She has a valid point. Of course parents can't - and shouldn't - spend all of their time playing with the children. That would be neither normal nor healthy. Children need to learn to entertain themselves and all of us need some 'me-time' in the midst of our busy lives, as well as ensuring the essential jobs are done.

On the fundamental question of whether housework can wait, however, I believe it can.

The dishes will not multiply if left for half an hour; no one will die if the ironing or dusting is not done until tomorrow; the world will not end if I don't clean the bath today.

What can't wait is that fleeting idea your child wants to share with you, her excitement at the cloud in the sky that looks like Grandad's face, or his wonder at the butterfly that just landed on his shoulder.

I was never a great housework enthusiast, but now my kids have grown up and gone I have no regrets about unwashed floors or smudgy windows. If I regret anything it's that I didn't spend more time with them.

It's probably to be expected that none of my three children has grown up to be house-proud or even particularly tidy. What I have noticed, though, is that in both their personal and professional lives, they all have time for people. And I am proud of them for that!

Video Interaction Guidance and Attachment

As the evidence base for Video Interaction Guidance grows, it is pleasing to see it now appearing as a recommended intervention in a number of publications from the National Institute for Helath and Care Excellence (NICE).

The NICE guidelines on Social and Emotional Wellbeing in the Early Years (2012) recommend the use of VIG in supporting the development of healthy attachment between parents or carers and infants or young children, which in turn promotes wellbeing and resilience in the child. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the recent NICE guidelines on Children's Attachment (2015) - focussing on children adopted from care, in care, or at risk of going into care - also recommend the use of VIG to foster and build attachment with parents or carers, particularly with younger children. I believe that VIG has great potential to help children to develop secure attachments, leading to stable placements, successful adoptions and improved mental wellbeing in children and young people. Even better if we can use it before children reach this critical stage, to support them to stay within their families, by helping parents to develop increased sensitivity and responsiveness, and enabling them to better meet their children's needs.