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]. http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/emotions/according-experts/child-development-and-emotional-circuits-mammalian-brains. Published September 2011. Accessed July 24, 2017.

Author contact details:

Sally Goddard Blythe

Sally Goddard Blythe
1 Stanley Street
01244 311414

New Research: Why Physical Foundations for Learning Matter by Sally Goddard Blythe MSc.

The below article was written by Sally Goddard Blythe, International Director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, and the author of multiple books, some published by us. You can find her books published by Hawthorn Press here, and more information about Sally Goddard Blythe and her work hereRaising Happy Healthy Children, a fully updated edition of What Babies and Children Really Need, will be published by us in August.

Educational policy by successive governments has increasingly been driven by aiming at outcomes rather than seeking to understand the processes of how children learn. New research confirms that there are wide differences in children’s physical readiness for learning and suggests that more detailed attention should be given to the physical foundations for learning in the pre-school and school years. Healthy babies, born at full term are equipped with a set of primitive reflexes, which support survival in the first months of life. Examples of primitive reflexes include the rooting and sucking reflexes, which facilitate feeding; the palmar grasp reflex and other reflexes which respond directly to stimulation of the balance mechanism. As connections to higher centres in the brain develop during the first six months of post-natal life, these early primitive reflexes are inhibited and/or transformed into postural reactions, which provide the foundations for subconscious control of posture, balance and coordination. In neurological terms, the process of early reflex integration consists of transition from brain stem reflex response to cortically controlled response. If primitive reflexes are retained beyond the first year of life or postural reactions do not develop fully, they provide indications of immaturity in the functioning of the central nervous system, can interfere with natural development and contribute to later difficulties with psychomotor development affecting social skills and educational performance. Numerous earlier studies have pointed to a relationship between residual primitive reflexes and educational under-achievement.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

In 1996, based on a method originally devised at The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP), a screening test and school intervention programme was developed to enable teachers to identify signs of immaturity in psychomotor development, which might undermine school performance.[7] Following extensive evaluation,[8] [9] the screening test and school intervention programme was published in 2012[10] followed by a screening test for clinicians and health practitioners in 2014.[11]

New research carried out in Poland in 2016 and 2017 suggests that these screening tools should be more widely used by professionals involved in child development and education to help identify children who show signs of neuromotor immaturity (NMI) and who would benefit from physical intervention programmes to minimize the influence of developmental disorders on educational achievement.[12]

The first study involving 135 children (64 boys and 71 girls) in two age groups: 4-6 years (pre-school group) and 7–9 years (school age group), revealed that despite the theory that primitive reflexes are naturally inhibited in the first six months of life, they can and do persist in the general population. The authors commented that, “the study shows that spontaneous integration of reflexes is fuller in school age children than in pre-school children” and that “the introduction of screening and treatment of reflex integration at the stage of preschool and early childhood may be a part of the prevention of developmental disorders”. They also commented that wider population studies are recommended to define more accurate age standard for integration.

A second study by the same team involving 35 pre-school children assessed using both the INPP Screening Test(10) and the Motor Proficiency Test[13] showed that the greater the severity of the reflex(es), the lower the motor proficiency. The authors concluded that, “it seems reasonable to introduce reflex integration therapy in children with low psychomotor skills. Primitive reflexes routinely tested, can contribute to improved early psychomotor development in children with needs, thus preventing many difficulties which children can encounter within their social and school life”.

[1] Gustafsson D, 1971.  A comparison of basic reflexes with the subtests of the Purdue-Perceptual-Motor Survey. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, University of Kansas.

[2] Bender ML. 1976.Bender-Purdue Reflex Test and Training Manual. San Rafael, CA. Academic Publications.

[3] Rider B, 1976.  Relationship of postural reflexes to learning disabilities. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 26/5:239-243.

[4] McPhillips M & Sheehy N, 2004.  Prevalence of persistent primary reflexes and motor problems in children with reading difficulties. Dyslexia  10/4:316-338

[5] Goddard Blythe SA, 2001. Neurological dysfunction as a significant factor in children diagnosed with dyslexia.  Proceedings of The 5th International British Dyslexia Association Conference. University of York. April 2001.

[6] Taylor M et al. 2004.  Primitive reflexes and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: developmental origins of classroom dysfunction. International Journal of Special Education.19/1:23-37.

[7] Goddard Blythe SA, 1996. The INPP Test Battery and Developmental Exercise Programme for use in Schools with Children with Special Needs. Chester.  INPP Ltd.  Restricted Publication.

[8] North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) 2004. An evaluation of the pilot INPP movement programme in primary schools in the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB), Northern Ireland.  Final Report. Prepared by Brainbox Research Ltd for the NEELB. www.neeelb.org.uk.

[9] Releasing educational potential through movement.  A summary of individual studies carried out using the INPP Test Battery and Developmental Exercise Programme for use in Schools with Children with Special Needs. Child Care in Practice.11/4:415-432.

[10] Assessing neuromotor readiness for learning.  The INPP screening test and school intervention programme.  Chichester.  Wiley-Blackwell

[11] Goddard Blythe SA, 2014.  Neuromotor immaturity in children and adults. The INPP screening test for clinicians and health practitioners.  Chichester. Wiley-Blackwell.

[12] Gieysztor E, Sadowska L, Choińska AM, 2017.   The degree of primitive reflexes integration as a diagnostic tool to assess the neurological maturity of healthy pre-school and early school age children.  Journal of Public Nursing and Public Health. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

[13] Gieysztor E, Choińska AM, Paprocka-Borowicz M, 2016.  Persistence of primitive reflexes and associated motor problems in healthy pre-school children. Archives of Medical Science. https://doi.org/10.5114/acms.2016.60503

For further information on the screening tests and intervention programmes contact:

Sally Goddard Blythe

Sally Goddard Blythe,
1, Stanley Street
Chester CH1 2LR
Tel. 01244 311414

For further information on research from Poland contact the authors of references 12 and 13.

For further information about the author of this article www.sallygoddardblythe.co.uk and www.inpp.org.uk

Toxic childhood or mere hype? Article by Richard House

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 (goo.gl/6aX6te). Signed by the likes of Susie Orbach, Susan Greenfield, Lord Richard Layard and Philip Pullman, our new letter (goo.gl/PCYJnS) 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 (goo.gl/p0S2Yp) over 7,000 times.

In early January 2017, another multiply signed Guardian letter appeared (goo.gl/uuxcqr), 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 portrait

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

Politics in the Pub with the Ngara Institute and Stuart Hill: Dismantling Neoliberalism

Stuart Hill, co-editor of Social Ecology, does rather a lot of wonderful work. Today we wanted to share with you one of his lectures from 2016 “Dismantling Neoliberalism”, which is pretty fantastic! Warning for a few minor swearwords. We hope you enjoy it.

Buy Social Ecology here.

More about Stuart Hill here.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Cover of Festivals Family and Food

It’s that time of year! October is drawing to a close. Here for your enjoyment, a simple pumpkin pie recipe from Festivals, Family and Food. Tasty!


1 unbaked pastry shell
15 oz pumpkin purée
3 eggs, slightly beaten
8 oz sugar
half a teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a quarter teaspoon cloves
half a teaspoon nutmeg
half a teaspoon ginger
1 cup top of the milk or evaporated milk
juice and rind of lemon

Prepare pie crust. Combine eggs, sugar, salt, spices and lemon and beat well. Blend in pumpkin. Add milk and blend well. Turn in to pie crust. Bake in hot oven (450F, Reg. 8) for 10 minutes, then reduce heat and bake at 350F (Reg. 4) for 40-45 minutes. Pie is done when tested by inserting a knife to see if it comes out clean (test centre). Serve with whipped cream!