Interview with Sally Goddard Blythe

Published originally on Teachwire, hosted by Richard House. You can read the article in its original context here.

Sally Goddard Blythe

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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Review: Raising Happy Healthy Children by Sally Goddard Blythe

This review of Raising Happy Healthy Children is in issue 32 of Kindling, Autumn/Winter 2017 edition. The journal included a great deal of really wonderful articles, and we’re very grateful to be included in it. Many thanks to Janni Nicol, the incredible editor, for all her hard work.

This is a fully updated second edition of What Children and Babies Really Need. It includes the latest research about pre-conception, baby and child development and explains how social changes have unleashed a crisis in the experience of childhood. It really values motherhood, and provides parents (and teachers) with the information needed to support children in these crucial years.

Sally takes the child’s perspective as she views their development over these crucial early years. She explains the shared physical environ between mother and child – that of ‘first love’, as sympathy – derived from the Greek, meaning ‘to be affected like another’. This potential relationship between baby and mother after birth, the baby;s ‘first love affair of life’, is described as ‘unconditional love for its mother’. It is interesting to go on to read how modern living, driven by economic and political agendas, interferes with the natural cycles of fertility and conception making work versus motherhood a critical social question, and how this can detach mothers from motherhood. In my own experience, the glut of information, mostly on the web, and not all of it accurate, also helps detach mothers from the more instinctive approach to parenting.

Sally Goddard Blythe’s deep research and insights into the pitfalls of modern life, and the threats to natural parenting, and her examples of what can be done to embed the ‘deep love of motherhood’ and its advantages for the growing child, are welcome in this very useful book.

I would certainly recommend it to all educators to enable them to support parents and their children. Marie Peacock’s endorsement of the book says “(this book) provides parents with the information they need to raise healthy, balanced, resilient children. Above all it demonstrates that what babies and children really need is the time, love and attention of the loving adults in their lives.”

Buy the book here…

More about Kindling here…

Book Review: Raising Happy Healthy Children

Raising Happy Healthy Children

This short but sweet review appeared on the website What About the Children? Many thanks to Lydia Keyte for reviewing this title.

The beginning of September sees the publication of two new books about children and childhood: ‘Raising Happy Healthy Children: Why Mothering Matters’ and ‘Transforming Infant Wellbeing: Research, policy and practice for the first 1001 days’. Both publications identify important messages for our policy makers if we are to achieve real improvement in the lives of children and ultimately society.

In her latest book Sally seeks to explain why ‘mothering’ and indeed parenting as a joint responsibility of mothers and fathers, is so important in our ‘ever-changing’ world. Not only does she provide information about child development, but she also provides possible answers and policy action points to address issues which concern so many of us.

Lydia Keyte

Buy Raising Happy Healthy Children here…

More information about What About the Children here…

Review: Raising Happy Healthy Children

Raising Happy Healthy Children

Our first review of Raising Happy Healthy Children has just come in. This review is from EYE Magazine volume 19, no 5, September 2017, and was written by Neil Henty.

This is a fully-updated edition of What Babies and Children really Need, which draws on the latest scientific research to show how vitally important the first few years of a child’s life are to their development.

The author, an editorial  board member of this magazine, frames the narrative in a society that cares for children and values parents.

This is primarily aimed at parents, to reveal the crucial early years period from a child’s perspective; in particular the relationship between a mother and child.

However, there is much to be gained for an early years practitioner, exploring as it does the biological, developmental, and social needs of a growing child from conception through to later childhood.

Buy the book here…

More about EYE magazine here…

A Modern Fairytale by Sally Goddard Blythe

Raising Happy Healthy Children is released today.

Once upon a time there was a land in which banks looked after people’s money; patient needs led doctors’ practice; teaching meant to instill a joy of learning and discovery; mothers were able to be at home with their children when needed; children played freely outdoors, and there was time ….

Then, one day someone invented a device capable of carrying our complex calculations in a fraction of a second; communicating across vast distances without physical contact and storing and analysing volumes of information at the touch of a button.

No longer was it necessary for managers and clerks to document meticulously details of individual accounts; the health service could be rationalised so that systems could be put in place to provide guidelines and restrictions on what it would deliver. Books and paper could be replaced by touch screens and parents would no longer have to worry about their children being safe when they were out of sight. Individual responsibility could be replaced by systems and there was no need for people to talk to one another. What a wonderful world this was going to be.

But, this mental, analytical system, capable only of thinking in binary digital form could not comprehend that humans are also mammals and share with other members of the species fundamental physical and emotional needs which are naturally met through the relationships between nature and nurture; maturation and experience; one individual with another.

In addition to the well-known characteristics of mammals – possessing milk producing mammary glands, hair and three bones in the middle ear – mammals have evolved to remain in close physical proximity and to care for their young until they are physically capable of caring for themselves.

One of the most dramatic distinctions between humans and other mammals is that human infants are born at a relatively immature stage of brain and motor development. Whereas in other mammals there is distinct slowing down in brain growth relative to body growth from birth, in altricial mammals, substantial brain growth relative to body growth continues for approximately a year after birth. The extended period of post-natal brain development is even longer in humans leading to some experts describing the first nine months following birth as “the second half of gestation”.

Primal affective feelings are part and parcel of our inherited mammalian emotional action. All human primary-process affects – emotional arousals, arise from lower cortical brain systems. The emotional circuits are mediated by evolutionarily ancient neural circuits and neurochemistries, hardwired into the brain – which develop rapidly in the first years of life through maturation and physical experience within the context of loving and responsive social relationships – the environmental software, which fashions the developing brain. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp described how these “tertiary-processes of the BrainMind – capacities for thoughts, ideas and ruminations – that require extensive neocortical tissues that are essentially tabula rasa, at birth” are fundamentally programmed by experiences, which strongly influence learning and the growth not only of the neocortical cognitive apparatus but also of regions and connections that govern emotional regulation.

All young mammals depend on maternal care for survival. Mother’s CARE systems synergize with children’s emotional responses, especially intensely when they get lost – their separation cries promptly stir PANIC in mothers, motivating reunion. If separation-distress is sustained for too long, no matter what age, depressive affect is promoted. This affective network is regulated via brain opioids, oxytocin, and prolactin systems, which provide social comfort, promoting attachments formation. Without a secure neuro-affective base early in life, children tend to grow into insecure adults, who are more likely to have depression and various insecurity problems, such as borderline personality disorders”[i].

Increasingly in the modern technological world the unique role of mothers as the biological and emotional regulators of future society is at risk of being overridden and eroded by the drive towards  legislated equality. While the ideal is sound, in practice the pursuit ofuniversal fundamental rights and equality for men and women in legal and political terms tends to ignore the unique roles that men and women bring to the creation and nurturing of children. This combination of physical, chemical and emotional factors begins before birth with the physical and mental health of both parents, continues with the mother through pregnancy and lactation, through early child care and subsequent upbringing and external social influences. In other words, parents matter through every stage of a child’s development from pre-conception continuing into the adult years and into the next generation.

The relentless drive towards implementing “systems” and policies in society is counterproductive to nurturing empathy. While systems create order and thereby minimise exceptions and possibilities, empathy seeks to understand the feelings and needs of others and the environment and to find alternative solutions. While the former is rigid and limiting, the latter is flexible, adaptive and creative – essential features of survival in any species.

While systems are designed to improve efficiency for the provider they are rarely able to adjust to meet the needs of the individual consumer. This is where “digital thinking”, originally developed to serve society also limits what individuals can do and over time influences how people think. We can see the results of it every day: National health and social care services which can only operate within guidelines (necessary on the one hand for patient safety and budget), but are often unable to acknowledge or address the needs of the individual patient; teachers and pupils funnelled into meeting the demands of a curriculum aimed at achieving outcomes at the expense of developing learning processes; an economy based on short term financial statistics, not the longer term human and societal costs or benefits; children’s games designed in a binary mode with only binary solutions thereby entraining children to think in a certain way.

An increasingly automated way of life (auto means self) brings with it an increase in social isolation, loneliness and self-centred behaviour. It is ironical that there is concern about an increase in autism (a neurological condition we aim to treat) and enthusiastic pursuit of a way of life which cultivates autistic features of behaviour (obsession with gadgets; lack of social reciprocity; sensory overload resulting in the need to shut out the outside world; the creation of a “bespoke” social world contained within personal social and electronic media).

As young mammals, children continue to need what they have always needed to grow in physical, mental and emotional health – love, space, time and real experience. Unless as a society we continue to provide these elements, and knowledge to the next generation of parents as to why it matters, “living happily ever after” will be consigned to the fairy tales of old.

Raising happy, healthy children begins with nurturing the biological needs of children in the physical world and making adequate provision for the role of parenting in a rapidly changing world.

[i] Panksepp J. Child Development and the Emotional Circuits of Mammalian Brains. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Lewis M, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. Published September 2011. Accessed July 24, 2017.

Author contact details:

Sally Goddard Blythe

Sally Goddard Blythe
1 Stanley Street
01244 311414