Are we forgetting how to parent?

What is happening to child-parent relationships in so called advanced technological societies?

Two items in the news today suggest that there is a danger that parental detachment in terms of sensory engagement and availability is affecting the emotional development of children.

The first item (Daily Mail 7.4.14) quotes research suggesting that ”four out of ten babies in the United States do not form a strong bond with either parent, and they will pay for that for the rest of their lives”. Poverty, ignorance and stress are said to be the main factors from preventing bonding from forming, in this article.

The second item (Daily Telegraph 4.4.14) comes from the UK in which Dr Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in advance of a conference next week says that pressure on parents to work for long hours is damaging family life and failing to meet the needs of children.  She is quoted as saying that, ”children need a work-life balance just as much as adults” and although high quality child care has many benefits, “nothing can replace the relationship that effective and good parents have with their children.  So we need time for both”.

In fact, I believe that modern living, driven primarily by economics and an adult centred society have reduced parenting to a series of episodes in the life of many children: maternity leave during which breast feeding must be developed, done and dusted in the allotted 9 – 12 month period.  This is followed by the difficult balancing act of work and childcare for mothers who return to work.

There is State supported nursery care from the age of three which can be a blessing for parents struggling to balance child care with the demands of the work place. There are breakfast clubs and after school activities. We are told that these will be a bonus for families and improve educational outcomes but are we forgetting about the fundamental needs of children? Just as adult relationships falter when partners do not have time to spend together, child-parent relationships also suffer. How can we expect the parent-child relationship to blossom if they spend very little time together?

Research has shown that oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the hormone of love” is increased when people share activities.  It is raised during sexual intercourse, breast feeding and when people simply share a meal, discussion or play a game together.  This nicknamed “love hormone” is not just about sexual love, it is also involved in forming the connections which bind us together as families, friends and a society.

Over the years I have written about how an infant’s relationship with its parents is the first love affair of life, and how the nature of that relationship will have a lasting effect on the child’s ability to form and sustain meaningful relationships in the future. That love affair begins in the context of a sensory world communicated through touch, smell, movement, tone, timbre and rhythm of speech as well as vision. This early form of communication – first language – is nurtured in the context of close relationships, proximity and security.

Less “advanced” societies have honed this primal communication system to a level we cannot begin to achieve. In one group where babies are carried by the mother through the day as she works, the mother is so attuned to her baby’s needs that  when the baby needs to urinate or defecate she simply lifts it from her body and holds it over the ground demonstrating an extraordinary level of non-verbal communication between mother and child. But this level of communication is possible because of the physical proximity of mother and child throughout the first year of life.

As technology aids us in many ways, so there is a danger it is also eroding our ability to think like the mammals that we are.  Much of the instinct to parent comes from having been well parented.  The more we separate children from their parents, the more we are likely to erode the parenting instinct and the areas of the developing brain which connect emotions.  Is this the society and the future  we really want for our children?

Parenting and the time to be parents matters.


Further reading  “What babies and children really need”.  Hawthorn Press. Stroud










Published: 7th April 2014
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe

Children to start schooling at 2 versus biological and developmental needs

Extract from “What babies and children really need” may be found at:



Published: 4th April 2014
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe

Ofsted. Children starting school at 2

When I read a preview of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s latest instructions to nursery school inspectors a few weeks ago, I thought that his directive could be interpreted in two ways, one of which appeared to take pedagogic principles into account.  In this context I elected not to add my name as a signatory to an open letter criticising his instructions, which was published in the Daily Telegraph on the 3rd April 2014.

On hearing Sir Michael Wilshaw being interviewed on the BBC “Today” programme (3.4.14) I changed my view.  His policy as explained in this interview reveals a woeful lack of understanding of how children develop, grow and learn, with directives being aimed at “teaching” children under 5 rather than providing an enriching environment in which they learn through exploration, discovery and trial and error about the world around them and their place in it.

It was in the 1960’s that Ray Barsch wrote a series of books on motor-perceptual efficiency in which he described the young child as a “terranaut” – an astronaut on terra firma – whose primary role was to become master of his/her own body in space. Physical competence and confidence in space provide the basis for balance, postural control, coordination, control of eye movements needed to support reading, writing and maths, the ability to sit still and even emotional stability.  These abilities are developed in the context of physical exploration in space through the medium of movement, a process most children seek and experience with joy and access through play throughout what used to be known as the “pre-school years”.

It used to be said that the time for reading readiness coincided with the shedding of the first milk teeth, which usually occurs from 6 years of age. While there are some children who are ready to read from as early as 4 and these should not be held back if the desire and ability are present, forcing children into sedentary and near-point visual activities before they are ready can literally do more harm than good.  In China for example, there has been a worrying increase in the development of myopia (short sight) in children, which is thought to be linked to the amount of time spent in near-distance visual activities from an early age.

Various studies have shown that more than a third of children in the samples investigated showed signs of immature neuro-motor skills after entering school, and that there is a link between the level of motor skills and educational performance.   Immature neuro-motor skills may not be the single cause of under-achievement, but it will act as a barrier to performance,

Both in politics and education little attention (other than lip-service) is paid to the role of physical development in supporting cognitive learning and behaviour, or apparently to matching educational input to developmental stages and needs.  More of the same, in terms of pumping more sedentary cognitive tasks into education from an earlier and earlier age will not produce good results unless they are led by the developmental needs of the child.

Neither do these recommendations pay sufficient attention to the emotional needs of the young child.  While a raft of studies indicate that children placed in high quality nursery or pre-school care from the age of three benefit socially and emotionally, the global benefits are less clear in children under 3.  Some studies have shown that levels of cortisol  – a physiological marker of stress – are higher in children placed in nursery care under 2  years of age.  Under 3 years, children do seem to benefit on measures of cognitive development but may pay a price emotionally.  The combination of long hours in nursery care from  increasingly early years of age combined with “schoolification” of the environment risks placing stress on very young children before they are developmentally ready to handle it.

Children are not “little adults”.  Development of the brain takes place in different stages with areas involved in sensory motor skills being the first to develop.  True education should begin with fostering skills with development rather than trying to impose a top-down adult  style of learning on the immature brain.

While there is a need to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds with access to enriched language and social environments these should be in the context of true “primary” education, which is the development of physical and spoken language skills in a milieu which facilitates free exploration, discovery and most of all, play.

Article may also be read at:



Published: 3rd April 2014
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe

Is every child ready for school? – An Open Lecture

Child with learning difficulties


Is every child ready for school?

Looking beyond the symptoms

Open Lecture

Thursday 1st May 2014 7.15pm

Room CBE013, The Beswick Building. University of Chester. Parkgate Road, Chester.

Admission £5

A growing body of evidence suggests that there is a rise in the number of children starting school with immature motor skills, which hinder their ability to learn and undermine achievement in the classroom

Sally Goddard Blythe, MSc.

Author of seven books on child development including:

 “Attention, Balance and Coordination – the A,B,C of Learning Success”, “What Babies and Children Really Need”, “The INPP Screening test and School Intervention Programme” and a new screening test for clinicians,

will explain how physical development supports learning, emotional functioning and behaviour and how immature motor skills can affect learning and behavior – dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder – and under-achievement

The talk will cover:

  • Signs and symptoms of immature motor skills
  • Links to education and behavior
  • Why some children slip through the  net of professional services
  • What can be done to help

This talk is suitable for:

  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Health professionals
  • Psychologists

Sally Goddard Blythe is the Director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP) in Chester, which was established by Peter Blythe PhD in 1975 to research into the effects of immaturity in the functioning of the nervous system on learning and behavior and to develop systems of assessment and effective remediation.

Sally is the author of several books and numerous articles on child development. She is the author of the INPP Programme for Schools, published by Wiley-Blackwell early in 2012, and a new screening manual for clinicians and health practitioners. She has lectured extensively in different parts of the world including a presentation to a working group on child well-being at the European Parliament.

For further information please visit:

As the number of places is limited, if you would like to reserve a place at this talk please contact INPP on 01244 311414 during normal office hours or

Doors open at 6.30pm

Talk from 7.15 – 8.15pm followed by question time


Published: 2nd April 2014
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe

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