Author Archives: Suzanne

How our fear of perverts is damaging more children than the perverts themselves

How’s that for a title? ‘Our fear of perverts is damaging more children than the perverts themselves’. The word ‘perverts’ is one I rarely use. But since it jumped out of the front page of the Metro this week, I thought, ‘Okay, if that’s what gets people to read articles, then I’m willing to try it.’

Everywhere in the news these days are stories of child sexual abuse. Its not just the UK. It’s the US and Italy and Australia, for starters. You get the sense that ‘perverts’ are everywhere: hiding behind bushes, in Parliamentary offices, in nurseries, in children’s homes, in schools, in Catholic churches, in hospitals, brazenly parading across telly screens. ‘Perverts’ could be anybody: people we liked, people we looked up to, people who made us laugh, people we trusted.

The Times 17/07/14This morning’s front page of The Times informed me and everybody else who read it that police have tracked down 10,000 suspected paedophiles. The sub-header drives home the fear: ‘Teachers, doctors, and care workers arrested’. Precisely my point. These are roles that we instinctively wish to trust. It is genuinely unnerving when the pivotal people in a culture seem no longer trustworthy.

So society is going through a rocky patch: waking up to the discovery of just how many children have been hurt by adults and the life-long consequences of that trauma. We don’t want that pain for our children.

I think, though, that this rocky patch stems from an additional fear. Continue reading

How stand-up comedy helps us understand children’s brain development

Michael McIntyreI’ve been reading Michael McIntrye’s autobiography, Life and Laughter. For anyone unfamiliar with the comic landscape of contemporary Britain, Michael McIntyre is the country’s leading expert on goofy obsessiveness. He manages to shine a light into the private, excruciatingly painful moments of our ordinary lives, and to twist them in such a way that they suddenly seem laughable.

Here’s how he describes (pg. 247) making the Big Announcement that he wanted to be a stand up comedian. He was 21. He had realised his whole life revolved around making people laugh. A comedian was simply Who He Had To Be. So when he shares this deepest hope with his loved ones, how do they react? Continue reading

Emotional Safety Standards for strollers and car seats?

What is it with baby transport? Why does it make so many of us feel a bit edgy?

 The image released by Plunket upon fitting a front-facing car seat for Prince George


The image released by Plunket upon fitting a front-facing car seat for 8-month-old Prince George

This month, the Royal Family’s New Zealand tour began with a public row about the direction that Prince George’s car seat faced.  Last month, Sally Goddard Blythe gave a presentation at the Annual WATCH? Conference, about the importance of movement for babies’ development, but the media headlines focused on strollers.  Last week, my blog about a recent New Zealand study on strollers turned out to be my most popular post ever, with 17,000 people around the world reading it to date. The responses to such stories are wide-ranging and emotive: Continue reading

How buggies shape babies’ brains

Woman pushing buggyIn 2008, I released a piece of small piece of research that caused an international storm. It tried to make a simple point: that the design of strollers shapes our children’s emotional and brain development. The study was, at the time, the only piece of empirical research that I could find that had even tried to explore that possibility.

I thought that parents and manufacturers deserved to know that strollers were important. So did the National Literacy Trust, who commissioned the research, and the Sutton Trust, who funded it.

That shows the far-ranging interest in this issue. The National Literacy Trust is an organization interested in reading, and the Sutton Trust is an educational charity. Yet both of them were interested in baby buggies. They had teachers behind them, urging them to give serious consideration to the idea that strollers could be influencing language development. Primary teachers have been witnessing a steady decrease in children’s linguistic abilities upon starting school, and they had wondered if the fact that so many strollers are now designed to face outward, rather than toward the adult, might be one of a variety of possible factors contributing to that decrease. Continue reading

Breastfeeding Protests – aka Revolution of the Tits

One of the protests, in Milton Keynes

One of the protests, in Milton Keynes

I write this blog whilst watching the response to my latest Facebook post roll in. Saturday (15 March) saw breastfeeding protests  popping up all over the UK, with news sites  providing striking photos of the thousands of women and men reported to be taking part in the protests.

What did I write in my Facebook post?

“Oh no. New mothers’ TITS are showing up all over the UK. Reportedly thousands of them! What is the country coming to? We could have a revolution on our hands. Ooohh… Scary.”

The original photo of Emily Slough, feeding her baby.

The original photo of Emily Slough, feeding her baby.

Tits? Revolution? What’s this all about? Continue reading

The Darker Side of Valentines: On Vulnerability and Parting

This Friday is the 14th of February –- the arrival of the annual Romantic Love Fest. I thought that gave us the perfect opportunity to look at the darker side of Love.

ImageHow come Love can make you crazy when it goes away? How come it hurts so much – literally, physically hurts? Heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, stomach churning, uncontrollable crying? Why do we have such extreme reactions?

I know this is a question that has vexed poets for centuries. Nonetheless, here goes an answer: For us humans, deeply social creatures that we are, the brain really is in pain upon separation. Experiments using brain scans, such as fMRI, have now shown that the same areas of the brain are activated when a person feels social pain as when he or she feels physical pain. The evolution of the human brain has led it to process sensory and emotional pain using the same neural circuits. Continue reading

Scotland’s Finest Asset: Banter

SBL-logo-strap-med“Scotland’s finest asset: Banter.” These are the comments of Willie Rennie, Member of the Scottish Parliament, included in the press release that went out yesterday in advance of this Friday’s national event: Scotland’s Big Laugh.

For anyone who has missed the news, Friday 24th January marks Scotland’s Big Laugh. The event follows on from last year’s, held on the same day in five city centres across the country, only this year it has a truly national twist. The core hosting team of Starcatchers and Suzanne Zeedyk Ltd are joined by Hearts & Minds – the Clowndoctors and Elderflowers who bring hope and laughter to children in hospital and to elderly people with dementia. We were delighted when Willie Rennie joined in by asking if he could put forward a Parliamentary Motion on the event!

A Parliamentary Motion on laughter? Is the man serious? Yes! That, in fact, is the point of the whole event, captured in its slogan: getting serious about silliness. Continue reading

Wishing for a Merrily Attached Christmas

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In this last blog of the year, I thought that I might acknowledge what we all know anyway. The Christmas season brings out in us a longing for a cozy family time, where everyone feels delighted to be in each other’s presence. For many (most?) families, this is not what happens.

Even when we tell ourselves not to get our hopes up, popular Christmas songs work against us! Once we start singing about dreaming of White Christmases and mistletoe and fires with hearts all aglow, then we easily slip into actual dreaming. In short, Christmas as it is celebrated today has a way of pulling up all our old attachment patterns – the unconscious hopes and fears and expectations and interpretations that we carry in our brains and our hearts. Of course it is seasonal family times that call them up, because it was in family times that they were created in the first place!

Holidays where hearts are not all aglow occur for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you have to share your children with an ex-partner. Maybe you have to visit in-laws you have never felt comfortable with. Maybe you are visiting siblings or parents you don’t see very often. Maybe you decided to skip all the tension by jetting away to the sunshine and are being given a hard time for failing to come home. Maybe everyone around you is sure to get drunk. Maybe you haven’t got anyone to share a meal with. These are the realities of many people’s holidays.

So how do we work with that reality? I can’t do better in answering that question than to point to the work of Diane Poole Heller, who works to help adults heal difficult attachment patterns. In her blog this week, entitled ‘Santa’s 12 Tips for a Securely Attached Christmas’,  she makes some of the following suggestions for ‘small BIG things that you can do to enhance relationships’ this Christmas.

  • Share hugs. They boost oxytocin.
  • Increase play time. She suggests doubling your current levels, whatever they currently are!
  • Give gifts the way your partner likes to receive them. This may differ from your own preference.
  • Sing carols. Singing together changes us physiologically.
  • Repair a broken bridge. Making repairs yields an 80% greater chance of sustaining relationships.
  • Make a date with yourself. Connecting with your own emotional needs is as important as connecting with others’ needs.
  • Share hugs. Diane says they are so important she lists them twice.

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As I write this, I recall a conversation I had this week, with a mother who spoke of the sadness and anger she felt that not all of her children were willing to join her for a Christmas meal. As we wandered through the unexpected conversation, she also talked about the violent relationship she had been in when the children were little, and what it had taken for her to eventually leave, especially as her own parents believed that divorce was just plain wrong. And she even touched on the fact that her birth mother had died when she was young, but her father had never been willing to discuss that loss.

This entire Christmas story was, for me, a story of loss and abandonment over three generations. Yet my conversational partner said, sometimes with an astounded tone in her voice, that she had never ever considered that the events (and feelings) of this coming Christmas could have been connected to these earlier times. I admired her courage in being willing to stand there, digging up painful memories in what is supposed to be the Season of Cheer. The conversation was not one that either of us could have planned for. And yet, there she was, able to stay curious enough about her own pain to see if she could find within it some nuggets of healing.

I doubt that she will have seen what she was doing as courageous. She just wants to find a way to get her children to join her for a Christmas meal. But I myself certainly saw what she was doing as courageous. I have learned that courage only looks like courage from the outside. From the inside, it usually feels like desperation – a person is simply trying to find a way to get their life to work.

So this Christmas I celebrate the courage of all of us who are doing our quiet damndest to have a good time with family who don’t know how to set our hearts aglow.

When do we decide its time to ban a book?

Trigger Warning: contains themes of Child/Physical abuse


When I was a member of University teaching staff, I used to teach a final-year course called ‘The Epistemology of Developmental Theories’. I loved teaching it because the students began the course having no idea what the word really meant.

Epistemology is essentially intellectual navel-gazing. It is the study of knowledge itself. How do we know what we know? What counts as truth and not-truth? How do we decide that? On what basis can we ever decide to believe in anything? How do we choose between different possible courses of action? The students either loved or hated the course. Ultimately, their response depended on how able they were to sit with uncertainty.

BlogPic Beating

I found myself thinking about those students last week, when I was sent a link to a petition  that is drawing growing attention through social media. It asks Amazon to ban several parenting books from their catalogue. The petition was introduced in August 2011, with 200,000 people having now signed it (or one of five related petitions). It has been discussed in the UK Parliament, on MumsNet, in the Huffington Post and on Fox TV News, and Facebook traffic is rapidly increasing as other organisations and individuals yield their support to the campaign. Continue reading

When Adults Have Temper Tantrums

Capitol_hill_cleaning_serviceI write this blog on Monday, wondering what the days between now and Thursday will bring. Thursday is the day on which the USA hits its debt ceiling and, unless some as yet unseen solution is found, will default on its loans. This is predicted to pitch the world into yet more financial madness.

One description of this situation that has been used widely is that of a ‘game of chicken’. Those employing that description have included the Indian press, the Singapore press and the Chinese press.

Claudia Gold, my favourite blogger, as well as paediatrician and infant health specialist, also used it in her recent post, talking about her personal feelings of helplessness as the USA “heads toward disaster”, having become “caught in the grips of an irrational game of chicken”. Continue reading