The Roots of Childhood Aggression, and How to Handle Them With Compassion, by Alicia Lord

Why do aggressive behaviors occur? Like all other behaviors, aggression is a means to an end. A child is engaging in verbal or physical aggression because it is benefiting them in some way. They may be fulfilling a need or desire, attempting to self-protect, or attempting to get contact and connection. There are a variety of internal and external experiences that may precede the actual behaviors.

Aggression as protection

Aggression plays the role of evolutionary protector. When the body perceives danger, it has three options: fight, flight, or freeze. The fight instinct results in aggression. An important piece to note here is the word perceives. In addition to the basic instincts of the human body, each person has their own set of cues and triggers to indicate danger based on past experiences. This means that someone can perceive they are in danger in a situation where danger is not obvious to others.

Some triggers may be noticeable and easy to conceptualize, while others may be more difficult – or even impossible. If a child experiences a car accident and then subsequently throws a tantrum each time he is forced to get into the car, it will likely be easy for adults to understand why the tantrum is happening.

Some triggers, however, are not so simple. You may never be able to deduce what conditioned them to exist. Some children, especially those who have experienced interpersonal trauma, perceive a threat in a specific tone of voice, or very subtle body language. Regardless of the specifics, what is important with this type of aggression is to understand that it comes from a place of life-threatening fear.

(To read more of this post, please follow the link below…)

http://www.parent.co/roots-childhood-aggression-handle-compassion/?utm_source=newsletter_235&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pcodaily&utm_source=Parent+Co.+Daily&utm_campaign=a726aea331-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_03&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3f341b94dd-a726aea331-132097649

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How To Improve Your Child’s Mood With Colors, by Sandi Schwartz

little girl covered in colorful paint

For thousands of years, color has been thought to have power over our emotions. Artists, interior decorators, fashion designers, and advertising agencies utilize the meaning of different colors to influence human behavior and attract customers. By considering the lessons of these experts, how can we as parents use the science of color to guide our children’s mood? Does the color we paint their rooms really affect how happy they feel or how soundly they sleep?

History of color psychology

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, used color for healing purposes as far back as 2,000 years ago. This type of therapy is called chromotherapy, light therapy, or colorology, and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

It is believed that color therapy uses the visible spectrum of light and color to change a person’s mood and their physical and mental health. Each color is part of a specific frequency and vibration that can affect certain energy, or chakras, in our body.

Practitioners also believe that certain colors entering the body can activate hormones causing chemical reactions that ultimately influence emotion and help the body heal. Red, for example, is used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation. Orange heals the lungs and increases energy levels. Blue treats pain, while indigo cures skin problems. Finally, green relaxes patients who are emotionally unbalanced and yellow invigorates those suffering from depression.

How color impacts mood

Psychologists have found that color can influence how we feel and can even cause physiological changes in our body. Keep in mind, however, that there are different interpretations of color’s impact on emotions depending on culture and circumstance.

Research shows that certain colors can increase blood pressure, metabolism, and adrenaline. Other studies have found that certain colors can improve sleep habits, boost memory, and enhance academic performance. One study discovered that seeing the color red before taking a test can hurt performance. Students who were shown a red number before taking the test scored more than 20 percent lower than those shown a green or black number.

Just as color influences our mood, it can also be used to describe how we feel. A study reported in the journal BMC Medical Research indicated that people with depression or anxiety were more likely to associate their mood with the color gray, while happier people preferred yellow.

Researchers at the University of California determined that young children chose bright colors to represent positive feelings and dark colors for negative feelings. They were even able to identify how specific colors made the children feel: red is for mad, blue is for sad, yellow is for happy, and green is for glad. Color can therefore be a very helpful tool in accessing children’s emotions instead of relying on them to tell us how they feel.

Institutions like the American Red Cross, St. Jude’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Scholastic incorporate this ability to connect feelings to colors as a way to better understand the emotions of young children. So if our children tell us they feel gray or blue, are seeing red, or feel green with envy, we will know what they are talking about can guide them through their emotions.

What each color means

Over time, studies have shown how different colors impact us in unique ways. Warm colors, such as red, yellow, and orange, stimulate emotions ranging from comfort and warmth to hostility and anger. Typically, warm colors make us feel happy and cozy. Bold shades of warm colors also help stimulate our mind and energize our body.

On the other hand, cool colors, like blue, green, and purple, relax us, but can also make us feel sad, especially if they are too dark. Despite their soothing nature, cool colors are not always welcoming and can leave people feeling removed and distant. Here’s a bit more about the impact and symbolism of colors:

Red

  • Excites and energizes the body, increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration
  • Creates alertness and excitement
  • Encourages creativity
  • Increases appetite
  • Can increase athletic ability, causing people to react with greater speed and force
  • Associated with increased aggression, an inability to focus, and headache
  • May be disturbing to anxious individuals

Pink

  • Evokes empathy and femininity
  • Creates a calming atmosphere
  • Can become irritating over time, leading to anxiety

Yellow

  • Associated with positive feelings of happiness and motivation
  • Encourages creativity
  • Soft, subtle yellows promote concentration
  • Bright shades stimulate the memory and increase metabolism
  • Too much can lead to anger and frustration

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

How to improve your child’s mood with colors

The Dunedin Study: Early Indicators of Future Physical Health, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

life-cycle-fy

Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”

“Why do some people develop phobias and cancers, while others lead a healthy existence?  Why do some children grow up to be successful entrepreneurs or Nobel Prize Winners, while others become drug addicts and down and outs?  Are these things settled at birth, or is it a result of our childhood experiences?  This question has fascinated philosophers and scientists for thousands of years.”  — Opening lines of “The Dunedin Longitudinal Study” TV Programme.

The Dunedin Study findings are that diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality are all greater in number among children raised in poverty.  Dental issues, infectious diseases and meningitis are also more prevalent among these children.  Children raised in poverty are 3-5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital than children who are not from poor backgrounds.

Follow up studies confirm Dunedin Study findings: the overall life expectancy of children growing up in poverty is lower.   For those raised in South Auckland, the lower socioeconomic region of Auckland City New Zealand, life expectancy was shown to be seven years less than that of children raised in any other part of Auckland.  A similar study in Bayview, the poorer area of San Francisco in the USA, showed that children raised there had a life expectancy eleven years lower than those living in other parts of the city.

http://abc7news.com/place/bayview-hunters-point/

Street in Bayview, San Francisco. Source: http://abc7news.com/place/bayview-hunters-point/

For many years it has been known that there is an obvious link between child poverty and higher levels of ill health.  Due to the precise nature of the information obtained and the 95% retention rate of participants, The “Dunedin Longitudinal Study” has shown this link even more clearly.  Not only do children in poverty suffer from health issues at a greater rate than their peers who do not live in poverty, but the ill health suffered by these children has lifelong effects.  This is true even for those who spent their early years in poverty but ceased, for whatever reason, to be poor in their adult years.

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Growing up in poverty has “lingering effects” on physical health, according to “Dunedin Study” findings.    This is a new and very radical finding.  Children growing up in poverty are subject to stresses which, over time, create inflammation in their blood, study findings show.  Blood tests showed that study members who grew up in poverty and/ or those who were abused or neglected as children had the highest levels of inflammation.  Chronic inflammation permanently “weakens” health, leaving these individuals much more susceptible to diseases related to this inflammation.  In effect this means childhood stress can set up a lifetime of poor health.  Even for those who grew up in poverty, but become wealthy in adulthood, the physical effects of growing up poor can’t be changed.

japanese-saying

The disparity between the lives of the rich and the poor is an increasing issue in developed countries.  The “Dunedin Longitudinal Study” has discovered then, that aside from effects such as economic disadvantage (including educational disadvantage) and a higher risk of becoming involved in criminal activity, long term physical health is compromised by poverty– whether or not the individual in question remains poor into adulthood.  Once again the importance of society investing in people’s early years is shown– we now have a scientific reason to invest in our children, it is more than just “a nice thing to do”.   Our childhood year are truly our “Forever Years”, emotionally and physically.

forever-years-icon

The Road Near Rio’s Olympic Village Where 9-year-old Girls are being Sold for Sex, by Candace Sutton

ro 4 A

Around a bend on one of Brazil’s longest highways, only a 50-minute drive from Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic village, girls as young as nine are selling their bodies to truck drivers for money.

Just a few miles from the glittering new stadiums where the world’s elite athletes are gathering to battle it out for Olympic gold is a shabby world of poverty, violence and child exploitation.

The BR-116 runs for 2800 miles between the World Cup stadium host city Fortaleza in the far north of Brazil to Brazil’s largest city Sao Paulo, where the Arena de Corinthians will stage Olympic soccer games in the south.

The road is nicknamed the Highway of Death (Rodovia da Morte) for its mortality rate due to many accidents and unstable weather and conditions along the route.

But its real misery occurs at 262 truck stops along its way, where female children are sold for sex, often by their own families, sometimes as part of a town’s unofficial bartering system.

ro 1Two underage sex slaves near the football stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil before the 2014 World Cup soccer. Picture: BBC. Source:Supplied

As more than 10,000 athletes and spectators fly in from around the world for the $10 billion 2016 summer Olympics, local activists are drawing attention to the reality of the young girls drawn into a life of sex slavery and drug addiction.

At Meninadanca, an organization established to stop the exploitation of at-risk girls in towns along the BR-116, the real life stories are mind blowing.

When a Meninadanca team visited the remote town of Candido Sales, which is bisected by the BR-116, they discovered that underage girls in the town were regularly offered to men as prizes in raffles.

(Related: How To Spot (And Rescue A Sex Trafficking Victim)

Trucks and heavy goods vehicles clog the road lined with bars and brothels through the town, just miles away from the dirt brick homes where Brazilian families live in poverty.

ro 2Child prostitutes as young as 11 work in this slum which lines the fence of the 2016 Olympic football stadium in Sao Paulo. Picture: Jota Roxo. Source:Supplied

Sex trafficking gangs target the town and poor families are vulnerable to offers of money for their little girls.

But even the Meninadanca workers were surprised when a town council psychologist told them raffles were held regularly with the winning ticket holder’s prize being the right to abuse a particular girl being sold.

The psychologist Gleyce Farias said “Candido Sales is a small town, but every day we hear of another girl who has been sold.

“I had to stop a mother from allowing her 12-year-old daughter to ‘marry’ a 60-year-old man, for money of course.

“Another 13-year-old girl ended up in hospital because of the abuses she suffered. She told us how from the age of nine she was made to watch pornographic films, and men would pay her to touch them.”

ro 3By the age of 13, Lilian (above) had been sold to truck drivers by her mother for $4 a time. Picture: Matt Roper. Source:Supplied

 

ro 4Leidiane, 11, worked on the BR-116 highway but became addicted to crack and couldn’t be saved. Picture: Matt Roper. Source:Supplied

As the Rio Olympics are now underway, Meninadanca is attempting to lure the world media’s attention away from the excitement of the games to the confronting scenes beyond.

Matt Roper, a journalist and author, has held a walk of the BR-116 and Meninadanca’s Facebook page has an “adopt a kilometer” program on me for each section of the highway to raise money for the non-government organization.

As the final preparations are made on Rio’s 32 sporting venues, and last minute concerns centre on the Zika virus, Russia’s doping ban and pollution at the Guanabara Bay sailing ground, Meninadanca is tying pink ribbons along the highway.

Roper has helped establish ‘pink house’ refuges for girls rescued from the highway, although he admits many times it is too late.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://fightthenewdrug.org/the-road-near-rios-olympic-village-where-9-year-old-girls-are-being-sold-for-sex-photos/

Aussie scientists ‘unlock’ deadly peanut allergy, by Andrew Rochford

Peanut square

Australian scientists are confident they’ve found a solution to the deadly peanut allergy affecting thousands of children.

Under a new trial, children with the deadly allergy are being fed ground peanuts mixed with a probiotic in a bid to alter the stomach to accept nuts, and not reject them.

According to the scientists, 80 per cent of children in the trial were able to tolerate peanuts by the end of the study.

peanut1ART

Matthew Reed at the peanut allergy trial. Source: 7News

peanutART

Aussie scientists are working to unlock the peanut allergy affecting three in every 100 children. Source: 7News

Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia figures show three in every 100 Australian children suffer from a peanut allergy.

The figures also show just 20 per cent of those children outgrow the allergy.

“I’m worried all the time,” parent Leanne Reed said.

(To read more of this article and watch a video, please go to the link below…)

https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/32270991/aussie-scientists-unlock-deadly-peanut-allergy/?cmp=st#play

“The Dunedin Longitudinal Study”…one of the most amazing and detailed studies EVER of how important “The Forever Years” of childhood are in shaping the adults we become. By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

DLS

“The Dunedin Longitudinal Study” or the “Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study” (now also known just as “The Dunedin Study”) can fairly be described as one of the most amazing and detailed studies EVER of how important “The Forever Years” of childhood are in shaping the adults we become.   Recently a four part TV series was screened about the study. Entitled “Why am I?”, the series looks at the different areas examined in “The Dunedin Study”.  Findings from the study illuminate adult problematic issues, many of which can now be identified within the first five years of life.  For those who have not seen “Why am I?”, it is available at the link below, although friends overseas tell me that they cannot get TVNZ On Demand outside of NZ.  (Give it a go anyway).  For those here in Aotearoa/ NZ, you have to sign up to TVNZ On Demand, but it is free to do so.

Link…

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/why-am-i/episode-1-6474579#

History

The author (far right) with her parents, brother, an aunt and two cousins in Dunedin, 1981

The author (far right) with her parents, brother, an aunt and two cousins in Dunedin, 1981

I have a strong personal interest in this study, because my brother and two of my cousins are/ were participants and it began, and is still based in, my home town, Dunedin/ Ōtepoti, New Zealand/ Aotearoa.  Many memories of my own “Forever Years” are similar to those of study participants.

1352923850_Map-NZ

Map showing location of Dunedin, New Zealand.

“The Dunedin Study” was started in 1972 by Phil Silva, a teacher and psychologist.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ Psychologist Phil Silva is emeritus director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has tracked around 1000 people from infancy to middle age.

Psychologist Phil Silva is emeritus director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has tracked around 1000 people from infancy to middle age. Source: ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Silva was a teacher first, then a psychologist working with young people with learning and behaviour problems. He helped paediatricians from the Otago University medical school on a neonatology survey of around 250 children. It became the basis of his PhD and opened his eyes to a staggering number of undiagnosed childhood problems. 

A child participant, late 1970s

A child participant, late 1970s

“Kids who couldn’t hear, kids who couldn’t see, kids who had language problems, kids who had language delay. Let’s say that one in 10 had a pretty important problem that had not been identified and dealt with.”

He realised they needed a bigger study of a larger sample group. So they identified the 1037 children born at Dunedin’s Queen Mary Hospital between April 1972 and March 1973. They tested and assessed them at age 3, then 5, 7 and so on.   [Source:  http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/81109052/national-portrait-phil-silva-psychology-pioneer]

Luckily for Silva and his team, and for all of us, funding for the study has continued and the testing was able to continue as the “babies” grew into children, teenagers and then adults. Dr. Silva retired from his position as director of the study in 1999 and the role was taken over by Dr. Richie Poulton, who continues “The Dunedin Study” today.

The study is unique in that researchers have gone out of their way to retain participants.  Many are now scattered around New Zealand and the world, but, every six years, the study pays for them to be flown, from wherever they are, to Dunedin for testing.  This has resulted in a world record longitudinal study retention rate of 96% of participants (compared with a 30% rate of retention in other studies).  Current director, Dr. Richie Poulton, says,

“…our advantage is that we keep them in. …  We have kept [participants] whether they are transient, incarcerated or on the run from the law.”

The high retention rate of participants, Poulton says, as well as the wide and extremely varied lives they have led, gives weight to the data collected.

Tour 1A

NZ Tourism Poster

“In the early days there was a reluctance to take the study seriously.  Some thought results from 1000 people in New Zealand couldn’t possibly apply to people in other parts of the world.  This was in part due to the 1970s New Zealand Tourism Board, which promoted Aotearoa as a tropical Polynesian destination.” [Source: Why am I?, Episode 1].

As time went by however, it became apparent that results of “The Dunedin Study” were comparable with similar studies in other developed countries around the globe.  Over the past 40 years there has been an average on one academic paper published every 13 days, relating to the findings of “The Dunedin Study”.

We at the “Forever Years” believe these study findings should be available to all people everywhere, and will have a huge impact on our perception of childhood, particularly the early years.    Some of the areas of major findings in children which have continued into their adulthoods are summarised below.

"The Octagon" (Centre of town, Dunedhttp://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/76867478/Dunedin-study-is-the-gift-that-keeps-givingn, NZ, c. 1972

“The Octagon” (Centre of town), Dunedin NZ, c. 1972

For the next few posts, “The Forever Years” will be writing short articles on these topics, the results discovered in “The Dunedin Study” and how these can be used to help children… and people in general.  We will create links on the following topics, so readers can click on them (in the list below) and read about a particular aspect investigated by “The Dunedin Study”.   These will be useful to members of the general public, anywhere in the world, who are unable to access the documentary.  We hope they will also help to summarise and clarify some of the main points made in the documentary and through the research undertaken by “The Dunedin Study”, with a focus on identifying particular issues in early childhood.

Dr. Poulton says the experience of being director of “The Dunedin Study” has changed him and given him a deeper understanding of altruism, trust and courage.  Among participants, he says, are people who have had very hard lives, including those who have trusted researchers with personal information they have never told anyone else, such as having been sexually abused.  “We have to honour their trust,” Poulton says, “…we are the guardians of a reservoir of extraordinary good will.”  He says it is important that the results of the study (and continuing results as the participants move into middle and then old age) move “outside the ivory tower of academia”, so they can be implemented in general society.

Richie Poulton, talking with a child in an early learning centre.

Richie Poulton, talking with a child in an early learning centre.

Childhood is a time of hope and possibility for both children and parents.  “The Dunedin Study” has identified that many adult problems begin much earlier in life than we’d previously imagined.  But it has also found overwhelming evidence of the benefits to children of a good start in life… and that a good start can avert what may initially appear to be negative personality traits (positive nurture can overcome negative nature, if you like).  Overall, then, we at “The Forever Years” believe the message presented in data collected is one of hope for our children, if the results are then acted upon.  Acting upon them will mean early intervention for “at risk” children and a greater investment in our children’s early years, including in supporting parents and in quality early childhood education.  A “good childhood” with a balanced and predictable environment and parenting which is warm, stimulating, sensitive and consistent sets people up for the best life trajectory.

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Related Links…

http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/

http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/about-us

http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/tv-radio/80402120/Dunedin-providing-the-data-that-could-shape-humanitys-future

http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/76867478/Dunedin-study-is-the-gift-that-keeps-giving

World Day Against Child Labour

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It’s World Day Against Child Labour (June 12th)! This year’s theme is “End child labour in supply chains – It’s everyone’s business!” You can check for the existence of child labour in the supply chains of products you use with the US Department of Labor’s “Sweat & Toil” app or via its “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.” Share what you find!  https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/

This website (at the link above) also has many other interesting, more detailed facts about the child labour and forced child labour used in the countries mentioned in the list, which is below.  Share this information.  All the children of the world are “our” children, all children deserve a childhood, an education and to be free from exploitation.

Link to a previous post on “The Forever Years” about Child Labour:  https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/2268/

child-labour

Jainal works in silver cooking pot factory in India. He is 11 years old. He has been working in this factory for three years. Source: http://kalyan-city.blogspot.co.nz/2009/07/child-labour-in-india-still-prevalent.html

Globally, as many as 168 million children between ages 5-17 are child labourers, with 85 million in hazardous child labour – forced labour, trafficking and bonded labour.(1) Children who work are often separated from their families, exposed to dangerous substances, harsh working conditions and higher risk of mistreatment, violence, physical and psychological abuse.(2) Child domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, forced labour and sexual violence and many children face potential health consequences, including respiratory ailments, joint problems, loss of hearing and vision, poisoning(3) and sexually transmitted diseases.(4)  Many child labourers never go to school or drop out. Lack of access to education perpetuates a cycle of exploitation, illiteracy and poverty – limiting future options and forcing children to accept low wage work as adults and to raise their own children in poverty. Despite these consequences, there are still 46 countries(5) that do not legally protect children under the age of 18 from performing hazardous work. [Source: http://www.aworldatschool.org/issues/topics/Child-labour]

Thanks to Plan International NZ for drawing attention to this list via Facebook.  🙂

Links to Plan International and US Department of Labor’s List below…

https://www.childfund.org.nz/about-us?gclid=Cj0KEQjws_m6BRCv37WbtNmJs-IBEiQAWKKt0J_OzUBaKK9-MBLPJN4XDaYicAxtUz1MojlUjEX4CgUaAhK28P8HAQ

https://www.facebook.com/freefromviolence/?fref=nf&pnref=story

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Source:  https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/

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6 Ways We (Accidentally) Teach Our Kids Rape Culture, by Joanna Schroeder

A cute 5 year old female child dressed in pink plaid shirt with blue jeans staring out into the rodeo arena dreaming of riding horses one day. The image has a vintage / western coloring theme with left side copy space.

No parent (that I’ve ever met) would ever dream of teaching their child that rape is okay. But every day, in many different ways, well-meaning parents contribute to rape culture, and our kids suffer for it.

As moms and dads, we probably don’t talk directly about rape to kids, at least not until they’re older. But we’re still sending messages about sex and consent all the time. Because of that, we need to make sure we’re not teaching them some very dangerous lessons, even if just by accident.

Here are six (very common) ways we get it wrong, and how we can do better …

1. Telling our kids that “boys will be boys.”

As a mom of very active boys, I know most people don’t mean any harm when they say “boys will be boys,” but too often that phrase is used to excuse bad behavior, like hitting other kids or being destructive.

The truth is, boys are perfectly capable of respecting other people’s bodies,possessions, and space. But every time they hear us excuse their bad behavior as part of boy life, they learn that they are not only above the rules, but also that boys cannot control their impulses.

This message will stick with them as they grow older and sexual desire starts to kick in. As parents, we cannot be shocked that boys feel entitled to sexually harass others (whether it’s standard rape, like in Steubenville, or as part of the all-too-common tradition of sexual “hazing”) when we’ve been telling them their whole lives that they are above the rules, by virtue of being boys.

2. Forcing kids to hug and kiss others.

Lots of well-meaning, loving parents tell their kids to give a friend or relative a hug without considering whether their kid really wants to. This sends the dangerous message that consent can be over-ridden, or doesn’t matter at all.

Instead, suggest a few different ways to greet or say goodbye to loved ones. I ask my kids, “Do you want to give grandma a hug, or maybe a high five or a wave goodbye?”

Kids need to know, from the beginning of life, that consent matters.

 

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://www.babble.com/parenting/ways-we-accidentally-teach-our-kids-rape-culture/

“The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog”, by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz. A Book Review and Analysis by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Dog

I found “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” a fascinating read and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in child psychology or who works with traumatised children… or even if you just have a general interest in how our minds (and the developing minds of children in particular) respond to trauma.  The full title of this book is “The Boy Who was raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook, What Traumatized Children can Teach us about Loss, Love and Healing” and the authors are Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D, and Maia Szalavitz.

One of the things I liked about this book was that, despite saying that traumatic events can “leave indelible marks on the mind [and the]…impact of PTSD [Post Traumatic Shock Disorder] is actually far greater on children than it is on adults” [p.2], the overall tone is positive and hopeful, both for children who have been affected by PTSD as a consequence of  severe abuse and/ or neglect or due to witnessing horrific events, as well as for adults affected by PTSD.   Bruce D. Perry, a child psychiatrist and Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy (USA and Canada) is the “voice” of this book, which he wrote together with Maia Szalavitz, an award winning journalist who specialises in science and health.  Perry compassionately and respectfully acknowledges the immense importance of “The Forever Years” (childhood) and the importance of investing in and creating a serious strategy of therapy for children  affected by trauma.

As a “lay person” (non-psychiatrist) I found “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” clear and self-explanatory.   On page 21 there is an excellent description of how our human brain develops: …“there are four major parts of the brain: the brainstem, the diencephalon, the limbic system and the cortex.  The brain is organised from the inside out, like a house with increasingly complicated additions built on an old foundation.  The lower and most central regions of the brainstem and the diencephalon are the simplest.  They evolved first, and they develop first as a child grows.  As you move upward and outward, things get increasingly more complex with the limbic system.”

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Source: “The Boy who was raised as a Dog,” appendix, figure 2, p. 248.

The younger a child is when a traumatic event occurs, Perry says, the greater the affect on the lower and most central regions of the brain.  This, he explains, is “developmental trauma” (as opposed to inherent anxiety or stress disorders caused in utero or by genetics).  Trauma in early childhood causes “altered receptors” or heightened sensitivity to “threat”: an over-exaggerated “fight or flight” reaction, based on triggers which the person may not even  be consciously aware of themselves and which, in others who have not undergone similar trauma, would probably not cause such a reaction.  A clear indicator, Perry realised,  was that children with this “heightened sensitivity” had, even when calm and resting, an accelerated heart rate at a level significantly above that of their non-traumatised peers of the same age and gender.

The responses of traumatised children, Perry explains, can be to create more “chaos”, as this has been their “norm” in the past and brain pathways of accepting chaos as normality have been set up.  Adults who undertake social work or foster care, for example, should be aware of this.  “The responses of traumatised children are often misinterpreted.   …new situations are inherently stressful… attempting to take control of what they believe is the inevitable return to chaos, they appear to “provoke” it in order to make things feel more comfortable and predictable.   …we tend to prefer the “certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.”  This response to trauma can often cause serious problems for children when it is misunderstood by their caregivers.”  [p.55].

Following from this, Perry says that he and his colleagues recognised that “…the nature of a child’s relationships–both before and after trauma– seemed to play a critical role in shaping their response to it.  If safe, familiar and capable caregivers were made available to children, they tended to recover more easily, often showing no enduring negative effects of the traumatic event.  We knew that the “trauma-buffering” effect of relationships had to be mediated, somehow, by the brain.”  [p.66]

This is where the amazing capacity of our human brains to “heal” and create “new pathways”, even years after traumatic events which have occurred during early childhood (during the first, early stages of brain development) comes into play.

“…we tend to care for our children [and, interestingly, for ourselves as adults] the way we were cared for ourselves during our own childhoods, [so] a good “brain” history of a child begins with a history of the caregiver’s childhood and early experience.” [p.83].  Our “Forever Years”, then, are also effected by the “Forever Years” of those caring for us when we are young.  The diagnosis “failure to thrive” in a child ” (discussed on p.88) can stem from a parent or parents not having  thrived themselves during their own childhood years.   In extreme cases, even  when other, basic needs (such as for food, shelter and clothing) are met, if a carer is emotionally “distant” a child may fail to gain weight or be delayed in other ways (such as speech or other developmental milestones).  This is purely a “nurture” (or lack of nurture) issue, and nothing to do with anything innate in the child.  Perry talks about how until recently, doctors were “...unaware of the damage that neglect alone can do to the brain.  They assumed that something so clearly visible on scans had to be evidence of a genetic defect or intrauterine insult, such as exposure to toxins or disease; they couldn’t imagine that early environment alone could have such profound physical effects.” [p. 129].

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Neurologists say that the sizeable difference between these two brains of two different 3-year-olds has one primary cause: the way that their mothers treated them. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D./Ch Source: http://www.medicaldaily.com/chilling-brain-scans-show-impact-mothers-love-childs-brain-size-243328

“Fortunately the positive cycle is every bit as cascading and self-amplifying as the vicious cycle,” Perry says, [p.121] and while emotional scars may always be present, the intervention of a loving, understanding environment can reprogram reactions and triggers.  This is enormously positive  when considering the effect on  future social interactions (including romantic relationships) for traumatised children as they grow into adulthood and becomes parents themselves.  The more relationships are positively retained and jobs and parenting situations are handled in constructive ways, the stronger and more confident the “traumatised child now adult” will become, which in turn further aids healing of old, emotional scars.

Perry doesn’t just put this forward as a vague hypothesis, however.  Throughout “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” he gives concrete examples through case studies of real patients he has worked with (obviously, these children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy).   Each is an example of a child suffering from severe trauma, including the “boy who was raised as a dog,” who gives the book its title.  Through his work, Perry says, he and his colleagues “…only gradually came to understand how the sequential development of a child’s brain is affected by trauma and neglect.  It only gradually dawned on us that this understanding could help us find possible treatments. These insights led us to develop what we call the neurosequential approach to theraputic services for maltreated and traumatised children. [p.125].

I love the “neurosequential” approach Perry and his colleagues take, along with the immense positive ramifications it has for the children they are working with.  The nuerosequential approach works on the basis of assessing which areas in a patient’s brain have sustained damage or neglect from past experiences, and then addressing these one by one.   “We would use enrichment experiences and targeted therapies to help the affected brain areas in the order in which they were affected by neglect and trauma (hence the name neurosequential).  If we could document improved functioning following the first set of interventions, we would begin the second set appropriate  for the next brain region and developmental stage until, hopefully,… [the patient] would get to the point where his biological age and his developmental age would match.”  [p.139].

Just as our brains develop sequentially, then, neurosequential therapy is aimed at addressing “loss” in development (caused by abuse, neglect or trauma) in a sequential manner.  Perry uses the example of a boy called Connor (not his real name), now aged fourteen, who had suffered from severe neglect as a baby.  “In Connor’s case, It was clear that his problems had started in early infancy, when the lower and most central regions of the brain are actively developing.  These systems respond to rhythm and touch: the brainstem’s regulatory centres control heartbeat, the rise and fall of neurochemicals and hormones in the cycle of day and night, the beat of one’s walk and other patterns which must maintain a rhythmic order to function properly.” [pp.139-140].  For Connor, “treatment” began with massage therapy, as early neglect had left him with an aversion to touch which was affecting his ability to even make eye contact with others, and hence affecting his social relationships.

Perry goes on to describe the “levels” or “layers” of neurosequential therapy, each of which respond to and attempt to address a deficit caused by trauma earlier on.

White Layers

Touch

kangaroo-careTouch is, of course, our earliest form of validation and security from our carers.  This is the reason for the importance placed on giving newborn babies “skin to skin” contact and the psychological benefits of this can be seen throughout life.  (See previous articles on this blog about the importance of positive touch in early childhood and throughout life, by following the links below).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/infant-massage-nurturing-touch-and-self-care-for-the-caregiver-by-erin-e-sonnier-from-nurtured-child-nurtured-you

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/touch-as-nutrition-by-john-tuite/

Music and Movement

Many of us parents take our preschoolers to “Music and Movement” groups thinking that that’s just “what you do” and that it gives us a chance to socialise with other parents and connect with and focus on our children in a child-centred environment.  All of this is true and the benefits of music to our babies and children has been well documented.  (Again, there is a link to follow below if you would like to read an article about the benefits of music to our kids).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/5-ways-in-which-kids-benefit-from-learning-a-musical-instrument-by-justine-pierre/

After reading “The Boy Who was raised as a Dog”, I came to realise that, beyond being merely “beneficial”, music and movement are essential in brain development, affecting crucial areas such as language acquisition and breathing and heart rate regulation. Music and humanity have been linked since the dawn of time, with every culture having songs and rhymes for children passed down from generation to generation.  They are part of the fabric of who we are.

Play Therapy

mi1_675Perry describes how “play therapy” is used in treating traumatised children and in particular talks about Sandy (not her real name), a three year old girl who witnessed her mother being raped and stabbed to death, before having her own throat slit and being left for dead.  Sandy was alone with her mother’s body in their apartment for eleven hours before being discovered, taken to hospital and having the wounds on her neck treated. [p.33].   Perry discovered that Sandy had a need to role play the scene which had traumatised her again and again.  This involved  Perry himself lying on the ground, in the role of Sandy’s mother, while Sandy attempted to “wake” him and “feed” him, which she had done with her mother during the eleven hours after the brutal attack on them both.  [p.52].  “While she did this [role play] , I had to do exactly what she wanted: don’t talk, don’t move, don’t interfere, don’t stop.  She needed to have total control while she performed this reenactment.  And that control, I began to recognize, would be critical to helping her heal.”  Over the course of manyPlato-play+blue months, Sandy began to alter this re-enactment and, on her own, changed it to a scene where Perry would read her a story book, thus reverting to a positive memory of times with her mother before the attack.  This is not to say that Sandy wasn’t scarred by her extremely traumatic experience.  But “play therapy” in this way enabled her to process what had happened and move towards healing.  Perry says that, with ongoing therapy and encouragement, Sandy went on to lead a satisfying and productive life, despite her horrific early  experience.

The importance of “play” is something for all parents and carers to be aware of.  A particularly useful article on “Attachment Play” (especially beneficial to children being fostered or adopted, who may have attachment issues or disorders, but also beneficial to our children generally) was recently published by Marion Badenoch Rose, here on the “Forever Years”.  (To read it, please follow the link below):

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/an-introduction-to-attachment-play-by-marion-badenoch-rose/

Some other articles on the importance of play can be found at the links below:

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/the-remarkable-power-of-play-why-play-is-so-important-for-children-by-karen-young/

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/let-the-children-play-outside-by-greenlife-matters-the-nursery-and-garden-industry-new-zealand/

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/help-my-toddler-cant-play-without-me-by-janet-lansbury/

Interaction with Peers

kidsplaying-on-playgroundPerry says the next step in neurosequential therapy is being able to aptly interact with peers.  This is a big step, as adults make allowances and try to protect or help a child who they see as having “issues”, but successful peer interaction (and acceptance of and by peers) is necessary to be able to function throughout the rest of life, with implications for all future relationships.  Perry discusses the case of Peter (not his real name) a seven year old boy who was adopted at age three from an orphanage in Russia.  Due to early lack of stimulation and neglect during his time at the orphanage (where intentions were good, but there were simply not enough adults to go around, meaning that Peter and the other three year olds there were fed and changed, but spent all day in cots), Peter, who was an intelligent boy, showed behaviour which was young for his age and, inspite of loving and patient behaviour from his adoptive parents at home, this caused him to be rejected and marginalised by his peers… which in turn led Peter to having angry, bewildered outburts (which only served to further ostracise him from his classmates).

Mandela“The behavior of his classmates was predictable.  What was happening was a small version of what happens all across the planet in various forms every day.  Human beings fear what they don’t understand.  The unknown scares us.  When we meet people who look or act in unfamiliar, strange ways, our initial response is to keep them at arms length.  At times we make ourselves feel superior, smarter or more competent by dehumanizing or degrading those who are different.  The roots of so many of our species’ ugliest behaviors– racism, ageism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, to name just a few– are the basic brain-mediated response to perceived threat.  We tend to fear what we do not understand, and fear can so easily twist into hate or even violence because it can suppress the rational parts of our brain.”  [p.225].

The biggest predator of humans is humans and we have, therefore, a built in fear of other people who seem “different”.  Perry says, “...Peter was intellectually advanced, but socially clueless.  I realised that if he was going to catch up, he was going to need the help of his peers.” [p.226].

choose-wiselyWhat followed was an amazing (and yet simple) exercise in understanding.  Our fear reaction so often kicks in, but the empathy reaction can take longer to activate (in children or adults), but, it has been shown, empathy once activated is stronger than the fear reaction.  To get Peter’s peers “on side” in his healing, Perry (with the permission of Peter, his parents and the school) came along to his class and spoke about the brain… at a level at which seven year old children could understand.

Dr. Bruce D. Perry (author of "The Boy who was raised as a Dog", "talking about the brain".

Dr. Bruce D. Perry (author of “The Boy who was raised as a Dog”, “talking about the brain”.  Source: http://davidsmithsegarra.com/born-love-dr-bruce-perry/

I talked about how they were exercising their “ABC” muscles [of the brain] in school and about the importance of repetition.  I described how they had many other similar kinds of “muscles” in the brain that also needed certain kinds of attention to grow big and strong.  I talked about how the brain develops and what makes everyone’s brain work, emphasizing how the brain changes.” [p.228].

Perry then went on to explain how Peter had had a different and more difficult start in life than the other children in his class.

An orphanage in Eastern Europe. Source: National Geographic.

An orphanage in Eastern Europe. Source: National Geographic.

“When he was a little boy, he spent every minute of every day for the first three years of his life in one crib.  …  Peter was born in another country where they did not know very much about the brain.  … Peter never had a chance to walk around, to play with friends, to get a hug from any loving grown-ups.  His brain didn’t get very much stimulation.  … his new parents came… [then] Peter’s amazing brain started to learn so many things.  Even though he had never heard English, he learned English in just a couple of years. … every day in school, Peter learns things from all of you.  He watches how you do things, he learns from playing with each of you and he learns from just being your friend.  So thank you for helping Peter.  And thanks for letting me come and talk about the brain.”  [pp.228-229].

Perry says that, in the weeks that followed, the children’s “natural goodness” came to the surface and they “included him, protected him and, ultimately, provided therapeutic experiences that helped Peter catch up…. adults have much more influence over the process [of helping children understand those who are different] than they may believe.  When children understand why someone behaves oddly, they give him or her more slack…” [p.229].

tribal-fear-altruism

In Conclusion

The Boy Who was raised as a Dog” has many more examples of the amazing capacity of the human brain to recover from early neglect or trauma, including the story which gives the book its title.  Perry also worked with the children from the WACO Texas cult and talks about his experiences with them in this book.  While Perry’s patients are extreme examples of trauma or abuse, he says an estimated 40% of children will experience some level of trauma before they reach adulthood [p. 233] and that some of our current practices of therapy and childcare are actually causing more harm than healing [p.235].  He advocates for an “infant and child literate society” [p.239] and a nurturing of empathy– which is why we at “The Forever Years” love this book, which fits in so well with our own ethos, of viewing the world “through the eyes of a child”, an ethos which Perry certainly puts into action when treating children who have suffered from trauma or neglect.

Related Links:

Life After Stress: The Biology of Trauma and Resilience

http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2012/08/02/what-americans-dont-get-about-the-brains-critical-period/

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/529-baby-brain-map

http://nancyguberti.com/5-stages-of-human-brain-development/

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