Richard House speaks to childhood expert Sally Goddard-Blythe about the impact of modern lifestyles on our children’s development…
RICHARD HOUSE [RH]: Sally, coming across your important work many years ago, I immediately saw a kindred spirit in relation to holistic, unhurried perspectives on child development. Can you briefly summarise the nature of your research, and how it relates to healthy child development?
SALLY GODDARD-BLYTHE [SGB]: My speciality: the role of underlying physical factors in school-children presenting with specific learning difficulties and underachievement. In assessment we interview families regarding developmental history from pre-conception to date. The INPP developmental questionnaire shows that if children score over seven ‘yes’s, subsequent assessment reveals clear signs of immaturity in the neuromotor skills needed to support learning. These include control of balance, posture, hand–eye coordination, and the eye movements for tracking along a print-line when reading/writing. These skills start developing in early childhood, through maturation combined with experience.
Many under-achieving children show signs of neuromotor immaturity, which can be reduced by introducing a developmental movement programme either at home (individual) or at school (class-based)
Analysing children’s development- questionnaire scores reveals many with a history of minor delay in motor or language development still having immature motor skills, eye movements and visual-perceptual skills when starting school, which can interfere with academic performance.
That these skills develop in early childhood, and respond to physical remediation using movements mirroring earlier developmental stages, led me to ask: (1) What naturally facilitates the development of these skills?; (2) Why is physical development important?; (3) What’s the best environment for developing these skills?; (4) What do children really need?
RH: A great summary, Sally – thank you.
Can you comment on the trends in modern lifestyles that you deem responsible for these developmental difficulties?
SGB: The apparent increase is probably multifactorial. Biological factors might include trends in pre-conceptual health, age of both parents and manner of conception (e.g. assisted conception); premature, post-mature or multiple births and events surrounding birth.
Socio-environmental factors may include changes in early child-rearing practices, e.g. over-reliance on baby equipment/gadgetry at the expense of free time and space to move and play; substitution of social engagement with electronic devices which entertain, but are pre-programmed and do not adapt to the child’s response; lack of conversation and increasingly sedentary indoor lifestyles.
RH: A concerning list, Sally. Can reputable empirical research be conducted on the relative importance of these factors? And what can parents do about these difficulties?
SGB: Tapping into a large-scale longitudinal research project such as the Millennium Project would be one option, with its extensive database on children born in 2000. Analysis of developmental history compared to SATS results might yield interesting results. Parents can be helped to make choices by understanding the physical-development process, how it lays foundations for life, and the differences between real and virtual experience.
RH: Are parents receptive to acknowledging problems with modern technology, and to making lifestyle changes, Sally? And what are the core themes of your new book, Raising Healthy Happy Children?
SGB: Some are. But it’s increasingly difficult, as new generations experience e-technology as a way of life versus a tool for life. Raising Happy Healthy Children explains children’s development from the biological perspective of what children need to grow up into healthy, happy adults.
It doesn’t offer advice, but leads readers into understanding stages of development – what’s important, and why. It also acknowledges there to be many different ways of raising children, and aims to help parents, carers and educators make informed choices about what’s best.
Sally Goddard-Blythe is Director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester. Raising Happy Healthy Children is published by Hawthorn Press.
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