Why Does Society Turn a Blind Eye to Some Forms of Child Abuse?

I woke to THIS ARTICLE this morning, naturally it was published by the Daily Mail. I later watched a feature on ‘This Morning’ interviewing the father. It later transpires the Martin Daubney, the author (and father) in this piece has also written several other nasty articles for the Daily Mail such as THIS ONE. What a lovely man he is, he clearly likes to shock with his (most likely over-exaggerated, one can only hope they are fabricated in order to get more reads and media attention!) tales of his life as a parent, his wife must be a saint.

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Times like this really hit home how much work there is to do to awaken the world, to help those that matter to realise that the way we treat our children has to change if we ever want a better world.

We need to wake up and realise that children aren’t an inconvenience, they are innocent beings who need us, rely on us to nurture them in the short period of time that we borrow them (for we never own them), we are raising the next generation of humanity, only so many don’t realise how important their job is, how much each action they take will have tiny ripples of effect – the butterfly effect of parenting.

The story in today’s Daily Mail really is nothing short of child abuse (and sadly not uncommon), yet read the comments – it is congratulated by so many, the crass ‘they’ve got to learn’, ‘you’ve got to be cruel to be kind’, ‘they need to know who’s boss’ comments – make this sort of behaviour perfectly acceptable in society. Imagine it in a slightly different scenario though. Imagine the same happened in an Old Folk’s home. Imagine a particularly “difficult” 90 year old gentleman who found it difficult to sleep at night, needing the reassurance of his nurses as he struggles to make sense of the world and his fears build, imagine the nurses becoming ‘fed up’ of him and making the decision to lock him into his room with a blanket, a pillow, a flask of tea and a commode. Would we find that acceptable? Would the Daily Mail publish a story on it? You bet they would, I would wager the title would read something like “Shocking Care Home Abuse”……….why so different for children?

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For those out there who really do still believe that young children should be treated and trained like animals, to protect the sleep and sex life of the parents (one has to question why the couple in question ever decided to have children in the first place?) let me explain briefly why I am so saddened by this treatment and the advice of many of our well known and well loved toddler ‘experts’ (yes Gina Ford, Supernanny, Tizzie Hall and Christopher Green I’m talking about you).

A young child’s brain is incredibly different to that of an adult, they are not ‘mini adults’, they do not think like us or feel like us. Take for instance a 3 year old, their brain structure is hugely different to that of a grown man or woman. Their neocortex – the thinking, analytical, rational, frontal part of the brain is grossly under-developed.

Let me explain in metaphor. Imagine a toddler’s brain is like a single storey bungalow, it has a kitchen, a bathroom and a sofa bed – everything needed for basic survival, but it is lacking the first floor of a two storey house, like that of an adult. The two storey adult brain has all the toddler’s brain has (the basic needs for survival) but the added first floor provides a whole lot more, it provides a study – a place for contemplation and a bedroom – a place for calmness and relaxation and a large mirror – for self reflection and the development of empathy. Now in the bungalow when a toddler is scared their emotions swirl around the rooms, but sometimes, lots of times, they become overwhelming and without a first storey to diffuse them in the contemplation room, they ‘flip out’ and escape easily just like smoke coming out of a chimney. In an adult though, any big feelings originating downstairs in the primal part of their ‘home’ can move upstairs where they can be diffused and rational decisions made. Toddler’s do not have this second storey, they do not have extra ‘rooms’ to diffuse their feelings, they do not have ‘rooms’ of contemplation and rational thought, they do not have a mirror to reflect on the feelings of others – they are not selfish they just cannot comprehend that other people may have different feelings to them, making them highly egocentric.

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Toddlers and preschoolers have raw emotion and no other way of dealing with it other than letting go or ‘flipping out’…..a ‘good enough’ parent understands this and understands that young children need our help to handle their feelings (clearl locking a child in their bedroom does nothing to help).

Now just as it takes builders a while to add a second storey to a house, so too it takes the architects and builders of a young child’s brain time to form the connections, join the bricks you might say, for the  next ‘layer’ of their brain. Under the age of 5 they definitely live in bungalows, in fact it can take right up to secondary school age for their extension to be fully completed and habitable.

That’s not all though……during childhood the way we treat our children can have a lasting effect on the structure of their brain, the way we treat them almost forms the architectural plans for their second storey. If we treat them with empathy and compassion, listen to them, honour their feelings and help them to feel validated, accepted and unconditionally loved, then the second storey will almost always go well. The plans will lead to well built walls and well connected water and electricity that will see them through for the rest of their lives. In short their ‘home’ will be a good place for them to live for many years to come – equipping them with all that they need.

What happens if we do not treat our offspring with compassion? What if we punish them, yell at them over and over, shut them in their own rooms, leave them in time out or on the naughty step, teach them that our love is conditional, that they aren’t ‘good enough’, that they must cope with their fears and big emotions alone (especially at night) because their feelings are unacceptable to us. What happens if we lock them in their bedroom in order that we get a good night’s sleep ourselves?

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What happens is that we alter the architect’s plans, our brickwork isn’t quite as optimal, our services connections not quite as plentiful and not just in the short term – forever more. In real terms we deprive the future adult of some of the connections (scientists call this ‘neural pruning’ – taking away some of the brain connections that are not reinforced) and we scrimp on some of the raw materials which can have a knock on effect on the integrity of our building (in real life terms a child who is not raised with compassion is likely to have a hippocampus – a part of the brain – that is much smaller than that of a child is treated with compassion, what effect does this have? The hippocampus plays a big role in many emotional facets of behaviour including the mediation of emotional responses).

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These ideas are discussed in this wonderful TED film:

So I guess the question we must ask ourselves as parents is “what matters more?”

What matters more? A full night’s sleep or responding to our child’s needs?

What matters more? Putting our needs first or those of our child?

What matters more? Living only for today or thinking of tomorrow?

What do you think matters more?

Sarah

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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