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
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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Toxic childhood or mere hype? Article by Richard House

Richard House portrait

Let’s have an informed public and professional debate about the issues threatening our children’s wellbeing, argues Richard House…

Just before last Christmas, Sue Palmer and I, in conjunction with Dr Sharie Coombes, organised a 10-year anniversary press letter to mark the publication of our first ‘toxic childhood’ press letter from 2006 ( Signed by the likes of Susie Orbach, Susan Greenfield, Lord Richard Layard and Philip Pullman, our new letter ( argued that since 2006, policy-making around children’s wellbeing has been half-hearted, fragmented, contradictory and chronically short-termist. With children’s mental health problems approaching epidemic levels and physical health problems (e.g. obesity) relentlessly escalating, we predict major deleterious consequences for societal wellbeing for the foreseeable future, if nothing serious is done to address the problems of ‘technological hyper-modernity’ and ‘the march of the inhuman’, as philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard termed it.

In our letter we urged government to develop a coherent, well-funded kindergarten stage (3–7 year-olds) emphasising social and emotional development and outdoor play; national guidelines on screen-based technology for 0–12-year-olds, produced by recognised authorities; and a cabinet-level ‘minister for children’ auditing all government policies for their impact on children. We also advocated a non party-political Standing Conference on Children’s Health and Well-being, meeting and reporting regularly to Parliament.

Our letter was misleadingly titled ‘Screenbased lifestyle harms children’s health’ by the newspaper, which didn’t remotely reflect the range and subtlety of our arguments about ‘toxic childhood’ syndrome. This was highly unfortunate, allowing our opponents to position our arguments in a one-sided, misleading way, focusing predominantly on screen time in a way that we didn’t. As I write, our letter has been shared nearly 4,000 times, and the accompanying Guardian report ( over 7,000 times.

In early January 2017, another multiply signed Guardian letter appeared (, taking issue with ours, and mysteriously allowing readers’ comments to be added to the website – a facility not afforded to our own letter. Titled ‘Screen time guidelines need to be built on evidence, not hype’, this new letter argued that an important debate about screen time is indeed necessary, but that it needs quality research and evidence supporting it. The letter refers to “moral panic about the impact of new technologies on our behaviour and development”, “writing for fear”, a “simplistic approach to issues facing childhood”, and “hyperbole and opinion” – clearly condemnatory allusions to our own letter. Its authors further wrote, “Divisive and scaremongering rhetoric that takes a casual approach to evidence is unhelpful and… damaging”.

The letter writers play the expertise card in their self-promoting claim to be “a group of scientists from different countries and academic fields with research expertise and experience in screen time, child development and evidence-based policy”. They are, they maintain, “deeply concerned by the underlying message of [our] letter”, arguing that “quality research and evidence to support these claims and inform any policy is required”. Incredibly, the ‘experts’ claim that “the concept of ‘screen time’… is simplistic and arguably meaningless, and the focus on the amount of screen use is unhelpful”. And they further claim there to be “no consistent evidence that more screen time leads to less outdoor play”.

To reiterate, contrary to the false positioning of our opponents, our own letter covered a far wider field than just screen time. Moreover, there are all manner of problems with the claims in this allegedly ‘science-based’ letter. Not least, its authors are clearly wedded to a positivistic view of research that privileges empirical research grounded in a materialistic metaphysics, completely ignoring the spiritual and philosophical-existential dimensions of such technologies and of hyper-modernity more generally.

But let’s have a full public and professional engagement on these crucial cultural questions by debating the respective merits of the cases made by these two press letters – in university early childhood departments and nursery discussion groups, for example. We might then be able to generate some cultural momentum about, and serious interest in, an issue which seems to generate massive cultural resistance to addressing in anything approaching an informed, systematic way.

This article originally appeared in Teach Early Years Magazine, issue 7.4, and was published last week.

Richard House is a chartered psychologist and early years campaigner. He edited Too Much, Too Soon?.