So the end is nearly here. And, predictably, the end of term phenomenon is in full swing.
What do I mean? The end of term craziness that sets in every year, about 2-3 weeks before the final day in school. The increase in energy, incidents, accidents and disclosures. Yes I know many, many children are super excited about the holidays. They are strong and solid and giddy in the affirming knowledge that their adults are equally looking forward to spending more time with them, and have special things planned. There will be fun, adventure, good times and lovely memories…
It is the other children I am talking about. The ones who do not have any sense of the adults in their lives longing to spend more time with them. These are the kids whose adults may actually be dreading the school holiday. Whether they are some of the many on free school dinners – and parents are honestly not sure how they are going to feed their kids enough over the 6 week break, and aren’t living near a MakeLunch kitchen. Or maybe theirs are parents who have to keep working and are stressed out trying to figure out childcare options that they can’t afford, mixed with guilt they should be – or want to be – spending time with their child. Or maybe they have adults or older siblings at home they don’t feel safe with – or they do most of the time, apart from when they are on their own with them… or at night…
For these children the thought of the holidays does not fill them excitement. In fact it is the opposite. They are filled with dread. They probably couldn’t tell you why, but these are the kids who just know they feel horrible in their body. These are the ones who would, honestly, rather keep coming to school. Keep being safe every day. Keep being fed everyday. Keep being with adults who keep them safe and help them grow.
So what happens when children are anxious?
What happens when they are living with the lead weight of impending dread in their stomach? What happens when they feel the threat of the ‘holiday’ everyone else seems to be excited about, growing bigger and closer like a monster coming for them?
They survive. Some do it by increased flight, and literally use the school corridors as their race track. Others increase their capacity to fight. They might not be physical (although many do at this time of year) but they will fight with their words and try to make things be the way they want them. Others may totally shut off and shut down. These are the easy-to-miss silent ones I worry about the most.
When you put 2 children who are struggling on the inside – with different survival patterns – together it gets interesting. When you put many in a classroom of 30+ kids it can get crazy. When you put them with adults who are burnt out, exhausted, and mentally and emotionally already on a beach somewhere, it can get ugly. And the kids get the blame.
The children who are struggling need grounded, attentive, calm, adults around them now more than any time in the year. They need understanding to get through these weeks the best they can.
5 Questions for School Staff to consider
Do you know any children who might be struggling?
Where are you at? Can you see a pattern in your level of tired and your amount of smiles or your speed to snap?
Are you coping by dissociating and not really engaging emotionally or mentally, with them any more – after all it’s nearly the end now…just a few more get-ups?
Is it wrong for children to feel scared about their impending summer?
How do these kids need you to be – how can you effectively support them? (Clue: it doesn’t involve getting angry, shouting, or isolations).
Many schools know this phenomenon to be real. Teachers are aware of it and work to keep everyone, including themselves, calm. They pull their pastoral staff off all regular groups at least a week early to have them be more available for responding to the end of term crises. They re-deploy these staff as a focused emergency response support team, without trying to squeeze these kids into an already full timetable which only increases staffstress and makes them less effective in helping these kids.
The best teachers in my opinion, are the ones who can be honest. School’s not out yet… there is still time for some learning – even if it is about ourselves and how we might be responding to these extra tricky kids at the moment.
How do you want to teach your children to deal with their monsters when they are on their own ’til September?
Children not sleeping well is an issue. It is an issue for them and often quickly becomes an issue for others in the family home too – especially if the ‘sleep challenge’ is seeming to be an ongoing issue rather than just a blip. Many of the children who I have worked with struggled with sleep. Some of them REALLY struggled with it, to the point of long-term not sleeping for more than an hour or two at a time for weeks or months on end. When one Dad brought his daughter for her third play therapy session, he announced to me he wanted to take her to the doctors. She was not sleeping and she needed some tablets and could I ‘have a word’. As I never speak about important things with parents in front of their children, I waited until we were safely in my play therapy room and well into the session before mentioning it to her. The girl admitted she was not sleeping. She knew she was doing all sorts of things to put off closing her eyes. She had a reason. She didn’t want to go to sleep. Sleep meant not being in control of her thoughts. Sleep meant NIGHTMARES. She described one of the nightmares to me. I could fully understand why she would not want to go to sleep.
Sleep means being out of control.
Many, many children (and adults) who have experienced trauma in their life (particularly those who have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse) often find that they have nightmares that feel extra horrible. They are a way of the subconscious brain ‘re-experiencing‘ the trauma in order to process it in the hope of making sense of it. The moment(s) of trauma was very likely a moment when the child was totally out of control (dis-empowered) and sleep is now another traumatic experience for them when they feel out of control, and something bad (nightmares) happens. Going to the doctor for not sleeping, would put a child in a room with 2 adults and depending on the particular doctor, this is often an overwhelming and dis-empowering experience in itself. If the child was given sleeping tablets, then they now have drugs to dis-empower them again and make them sleep, the very thing the child is trying to avoid.
I spoke to the Dad on the phone and made these 3 suggestions:-
I was only just starting to work with her. Let’s give it some time and see how things go with the play therapy, before turning to any additional interventions. These type of nightmares don’t go away with a simple ‘there’s nothing to worry about’, lava lamp or ‘sleep buddy’. The child who has experienced trauma will likely need safe and effective non-directive creative therapy to process what happened (even if they were too young and don’t remember it). With a qualified and experienced practitioner this is exactly what Play Therapy does.
It was really important at this stage for the girl to have her voice heard. For this reason alone it would be important to hear her when she says she doesn’t want to go to the doctor and she doesn’t want sleeping tablets. Hearing her is a simple way to empower her.
She had started doing many regressive behaviours at bedtime, needing a blanket, wanting a story and drink, wanting old teddy bears, wanting cuddles and sucking her thumb. I helped her dad understand this is very normal in these circumstances, and helped him see how these behaviours related to the age she was abused. Although she was actually in double figures, I gave him ideas to help him respond to her as if she was 3 again – to give her the 3 year old support and nurturing she (still) needed.
As our therapeutic relationship developed, and when she was ready, over time she was able to reprocess her traumatic experiences. The theme and subject of the nightmares were played out in her sessions and resolved. And with continued guidance on how best to parent her through the process (particularly around bed time) her sleeping got better too.
I totally understand that parents (who often become sleep deprived themselves when a child is persistently not sleeping), just want a quick fix, and if the child is keen to go to sleep then maybe a trip to the doctors might help for a time (although don’t go until you have already properly tried the suggestions in the other Sleep Series articles – listed below in case you missed them!). HOWEVER, if your child is not wanting sleep, and rejecting any real help to get to sleep, it may well be because of trauma-related nightmares.
If so, what they need is understanding, empowerment and the chance to heal at their own pace.
Dr Malie Coyne, is a Child Clinical Psychologist and a frequent voice speaking about children’s mental health issues in the Irish media. Even this morning she was on NewstalkFM with Dr Ciara Kelly speaking about how to help children after trauma. One of the things I heard her say really stood out:-
“From the top down, do we prioritise safety as much as we should?… There should be NO BIGGER priority than keeping our children safe, because they rely fully on us for protection. So for me it’s a no-brainer – we have to implement this from the top.”
If you want to listen to that interview again, then click here So what does that mean in relation to the ISPCC CHildline HEADbomz campaign? For me it boils down to 1 simple question.
DO children need protecting from this video ad?
ISPCC Childline has chosen to ask schools to use it with classes of the target age group 8-10. In addition they are choosing to have it played on mainstream media. It is shown frequently on TV, YouTube and in cinemas (UPDATE: just now withdrawn from cinemas). Here are some of the things parents and teachers and CHILDREN THEMSELVES are saying.
It is everywhere, so EVERYONE has to see it
So I was hoping my daughter who is 5 wouldn’t see the HEADBomz ad but she has. She said to me today “I saw an ad that I really didn’t like”, I asked her to tell me what it was and initially she said she didn’t want to and then she said “heads explode in it”. When I asked her what she thought it was about she said “if you get way too many ideas in your head it will explode”. She went on to say “it won’t really happen will it?”, “it really freaked me out” and “I don’t want to watch TV in case I see the ad”. Parent
DO children need protecting from this video ad?
Even when a child is removed from the immediacy of watching the advert on TV or in the cinema, it can still be in their head, on their mind and bothering them. If this is the case they will be carrying around a body full of worry, anxiety and often be distracted and find it hard to concentrate. Some of the comments from parents whose children are having nightmares and not sleeping because of it are shown in a previous article. You can see them here. Some teachers have been contacting me and are clearly already aware of the impact the video has been having on their children. Without showing the video in class, they have been able to handle things sensitively, following the guidelines for teachers I suggested here in my first article responding to HEADBomz.
“When we were talking about feelings today as part of stay safe today the children started to talk about the ad. I was struck by their sense of how grotesque the ad was and the humour. The intended message was not picked up by them. They are mostly 8 years.” Teacher
Comments from children in 1st and 2nd class
N.B. These children were notshown the video in school – they brought it up in their SPHE lesson because they had seen it on TV/YouTube/cinema and they didn’t like it. Due to their comments and concerns from the staff this school decided NOT TO USE the material sent by ISPCC Childline as they didn’t want to cause further distress to their pupils. These comments were all expressed in their class discussion…
“It might help a child because they might feel better – No it will scare them make them even and make them even less confident to tell about their feelings – I don’t think it would help other children because in the background it says ‘ha ha that’s your head gone’. At the start his eye blows up and goes into the fish bowl and the fish eats it. It’s inappropriate. – It makes you feel like your head will turn into a bomb – The younger kids might think that will happen to their heads – If they watch it they might get upset and might get more angry. – When they see the ad they might get worried and think their head is going to explode. – Younger children might think it’s scary and get nightmares – At the end of the ad the boy talks about his feelings and his head looks like it’s going to explode but it shrinks. This should be at the start. – I don’t want to eat my lunch right now because thinking about the eyeball freaks me out. Children in Class 1-2
Giving a group of children the chance to say what they really thought about the video in an anonymous poll, is a great way to reduce the peer pressure involved – again, without showing the video, one teacher sent me her class results:
A poll of 28, 7-8yr old children –
1 child said it might help
4 children said they weren’t sure either way –
24 children said they didn’t think it would help
DO children need protecting from this video ad?
Some children really struggle to talk about things they have seen or heard that bother them. So often it is easier for them to draw or paint what is on their mind and then talk about it if they want to. This is exactly what another little girl did. This message came from the family member looking after her for the weekend.
I was looking after an 8yr old for the weekend. She went to see a kids film with another relation. When she returned from the film, she appeared pensive and pre-occupied. She started to draw some pictures and then asked me if ‘headbombs’ were real and could that ‘happen to her “like it says in the ad – ‘it could happen to you”. She was also complaining of a headache.
8 yr old’s drawing of an exploding head after cinema trip. (permission granted)
8 yr old draws the process : happy – worry – explosion – no head. (permission granted)
DO children need protecting from this video ad?
If you know of other children, whether they are sensitive, struggle with worry or anxiety, OCD, ptsd, are autistic or for any other reason they struggle with the HEADBomz ad then please feel free to let their voice be heard. You can use the comments below, or send me a private message here.
I am so sad this is happening –
– and is still happening 3 weeks on from when many parents and children’s therapists and counsellors started asking ISPCC Childline to reconsider and withdraw their ad. In a world where so much happens that we cannot prevent, this seems to be something we should be able to stop. I know there are many compassionate, empathetic adults who have shed tears over the pain being caused, and potential damage being done to this group of children from the ad. Others are rightly angry.
You can click here to read the opinions of many professionals who are already asking for it to be withdrawn. If you want to join those speaking out, speaking up for these precious children whose voices don’t seem to be being heard yet, then please comment below or contact me. As professionals predicted, parents are sharing the proof that there are many children who are being harmed by HEADBomz.
DO children need protecting from this video ad?
That, I believe, is no longer the question. The new and very pressing question is:-
Many people have asked over the last 3 weeks, how did the HEADBomz video get approved? Were any Child Mental Health Professionals involved? Who were they? How could they? What on earth are the ISPCC thinking? The official information from the ISPCC – states that they did research to ascertain that children’s mental health is an issue that needs addressing. After they made the video with Aardman Animations, funded by Vodafone Foundation Ireland, they said,
we tested these campaign ideas with four experts – two school principals, one urban and one rural – and two child psychologists – a clinical psychologist in Limerick and an educational psychologist in Dublin. The feedback from this research was that a campaign like Headbomz would promote a culture around the importance of resilience within our children and that it was important that we speak to children of this age in a way that they would find entertaining.
The ISPCC will not release the names of these professionals for obvious reasons.
So it is interesting that the opinions of every single Mental Health Professional who has commented below, differ so greatly. Especially as these are all specialists in working with children.
Most child mental health professionals who have seen the video take less than 2 minutes (the time it takes to watch the full version) to know what they think : while there may be some appeal in it for some robust children, this video is NOT OK for certain groups of children.
The comments below are just a few of those that have been shared online. They are taken from Twitter / article – HEADBOMZ – the Talking campaign that made me talk and need to say THIS / article – DEAR HEADBomz ~ when will I stop seeing exploding heads? I know there are many more in closed FaceBook groups. AS you can see – feeling among this group of professionals is strong! With all this extra FREE feedback from child experts, it is nothing but puzzling to me why the ISPCC is still choosing to ignore these qualified, experienced, professional voices, and choosing to keep the advert live and being played extensively across TV, YouTube, Cinema as well encouraging it’s use in schools. The HEADBomz video is causing distress and harm to certain children, and the professionals speaking out below are not OK with that. Claire
Professional opinions on HEADBomz advert
As a Clinical Child Psychologist, it is distasteful, upsetting & degrading children’s very REAL issues Dr. Malie Coyne 🕊 (@MalieCoyne)
If even one child reports being disturbed by this, as a Clinical Child Psychologist that is enough evidence to STOP its’ use immediately. Dr. Malie Coyne 🕊 (@MalieCoyne)
An outrageously horrid song and video! I feel sickened and sad that this has been released by a reputable organisation such as ISPCC and really never want to see it again. Please ISPCC reconsider your position on using this material! Dr Lynne Souter-Anderson, M.Ed, B.Ed, Doctor in Psychotherapy. MBACP (Senior Accredited). Director Bridging Creative Therapies Consultancy
I read your blogs with real interest. I have been unaware of this video’s release, and sadly for me it is another in a line of disparities between what is thought to be beneficial in raising awareness and support for mental health in children and young people, and what is actually useful…. As a professional and as a parent I would always support organisations seeking to raise awareness around the very real difficulties our young people are facing. However it does seem as if there has not been sufficient consideration of the impact on a particular population of children; those that the film ultimately seeks to help. Certainly a blanket refusal to engage in open dialogue around even the way the video is circulated and presented is significant cause for concern. ‘Talking makes us stronger’ is an important message and whilst it is not the only one pertinent here, perhaps ISPCC Childline would benefit somewhat in following their own advice….and acknowledge that a positive response to talking also requires effective listening. Dr Katy Farrell-Wright Highly Specialised Clinical Psychologist. (BsC, PGDip, DClinPsych)
I am curious to know why the ISPCC refuses to withdraw the video? Is it down to pride, cost, stubbornness or something else? It also concerns me that the ISPCC aren’t interested. Does this just illustrate their lack of understanding of how some children struggle? Are they willing to open any form of dialogue over this issue or are they just not listening? Surely they should be thinking of the CHILD first. And if their reasoning is that lots of type 1 children will benefit from it then can’t they compromise and remove this from universal viewing through TV, YouTube and cinema. Allowing the material just to go into a restricted environment, e.g. a school, where well informed Principals and school teams can decide how and if to show it would be less harmful. With the correct support and guidance for staff of course. Not ideal – but a step forward from their stance at the moment… I am angry and disappointed that children, who are already struggling, will find life even more confusing or scary after watching this. And the ISPCC seem to be sitting back and allowing it to continue. It seems to contradict the title of their organisation! Kate
I agree wholehearted with this article. The video is awful and I can’t image what idiots, with or without child therapy experience, approved it. I hope it was made by a marketing company, i get that, (words fail me if it was a therapist or assistant psychologist) but who signed this awful blunder off? Do the right think and remove it before it drives more children to experience anxiety. Lorraine Debnam: Retired Psychotherapist, CAMHS
Working as a clinical psychologist, I applaud the idea of using child friendly ads to raise awareness of this area and encourage children to think and talk about ways to improve their mental health. However I find some of the content of this video disturbing and am very concerned that watching it may do more harm than good for particular groups of vulnerable children. I would encourage young people, parents and professionals who have concerns about this ad to raise them with the ISPCC. Sally Ferris : ClinPsych, ASD Specialist
I lead a large primary school. Over the last few years I have taken action to ensure all of my staff team are trained in being aware of supporting our children who have experienced trauma. There are lots of them in every school. I believe this video is inappropriate, ill thought out, potentially harmful and also demeaning to so many children that we are trying to protect, support and nurture on their journey towards health. It may be a high quality video clip which, to some, seems light hearted and funny leading to perhaps a few children being encouraged to talk to someone. (Although I question the approach when the options for a child are for their head to explode in front of everyone or talk to someone instead. A fear-based motive for speaking out doesn’t seem to be a healthy approach for any child.) However I feel the video diminishes the difficulties that so many children face when they have experienced trauma and feel unable to speak out about what they have been, or are still going through. I would NEVER allow it to be used in my school as I can imagine how harmful it could be to certain children. I am totally outraged, but also saddened and disappointed, that an organisation like the ISPCC is behind something which has the potential to cause harm to a child. Ruth T
This video needs to be banned straight away. It is damaging and highly inappropriate. Hannah Bridge MBAPT, MBACP
This is a dreadful video and I am concerned for all children who see it – especially children who struggle emotionally. I think it should be withdrawn. Eileen Prendiville. E.C.P., S.I.A.H.I.P., S.I.A.P.T.P., R.N.M.H. Director Children’s Therapy Centre, Co. Westmeath. We believe that this is a topic that needs to be treated with great care and unfortunately we feel this has not happened. We find that it could in fact be very damaging for certain children in that age group to watch. By showing it on TV, cinemas and YouTube, many younger children will also see it which can be frightening and defeat the total purpose of this (video) campaign. It conveys a ‘talk or else’ fear based message which we cannot support. We also wonder about the credentials and competencies of the ‘child experts’ (who were consulted in the process) and who rated this campaign highly? In summary PTI highly recommends that this campaign is withdrawn as soon as possible. Monika Jephcott, President PTI. Play Therapy International.
Actually feeling sick after watching that. Shocking! I am a play therapist in Galway and work with a lot of children with anxiety. This clip feels quite threatening- if you don’t talk your head will explode! What an awful message to be giving children. Linsey McNelis. Play Therapy Galway.
I am a play therapist and project worker in a marginalised community in Dublin. Both personally and professionally it is my opinion that this campaign is incredibly ill informed and insensitive. Aside from ‘talking about’ anxiety and mental health problems being difficult for adults never mind children, the actual content of this video is anxiety provoking and rather distressing to watch. It’s great to bring awareness to youth mental health but unfortunately this approach I feel will have the opposite effect on the target audience than what’s intended. Jennie Fitzpatrick. Dip Play Therapy Furious! Whoever decided that signing this off to roll out for professionals to use when they are working with children is insane and clearly doesn’t understand trauma and anxiety. They have neither experienced it themselves, nor do they have any real understanding of how to recognise it in the very individuals they are supposedly trying to help. This is a shocking and disgraceful clip that must not be shown to children struggling with anxiety issues, it is clearly sending out the wrong message which will set them back further, it’s too graphic and the language used is equally appalling. I hope the powers that be reflect on their choice after viewing everyone’s comments and withdraw the clip from circulation. Michelle. Teaching Assistant
It is good that children’s mental health is being taken seriously now and there seems to be a growing understanding that stress and anxiety can have a big impact on children. It is a good thing that childline and ISPCC are supporting this campaign of raising awareness. However this video is not the way to do it. Children need to understand that anxiety feelings can be helped by expressing their thoughts, feelings and experiences through talking, creativity & play. To tell children their head will explode is not necessary and a lie. They may get the feeling their head is about to explode but this, as we know as adults, is different entirely. The video reinforces to an already anxious and traumatised child that if they don’t talk something bad will happen, like their head exploding! It’s an awful video and needs to be taken down and re thought. Cara Cramp MA, MBACP (reg.) Child & Adolescent Therapist, specialising in play & creative arts therapy. Very disappointed in Childline for signing off on this. They had a huge opportunity here to really do right by anxious children by use of the media and they failed. It is being shown across the country, every time a child goes to watch a YouTube video they are being forced to watch it before their chosen video is played. As a Play Therapist in Ireland I feel sad to have seen this video. Sad for anxious children to know have another worry that their head might explode. Anne-marie O’Riordan. Play Therapist PGDip. Play Therapy Wicklow Well done Claire, You have really captured how awful it must be for a child in group 2 seeing this video. I think it’s really important that all childcare and mental health professionals in Ireland back you up and try to get the ISPCC to listen to us. Linsey McNelis. BA Hons, H DipPsych, PGDip
I totally agree with everything you have said. As a Play Therapist I was horrified when I saw the video. I can see it really making anxiety worse for many children. Thanks for taking the time to write this excellent piece. Hilary McFaul. Dip Play Therapy
I am a trainee play therapist & have an anxious daughter. I can see her reaction to this and anticipate the nightmares as she thinks her worries will cause her head to explode. Sian, Play Therapy Student
I cannot believe that this video is being used to attempt to ‘support’ children. It appears to do the complete opposite by making fun of their pain, and then creating anxiety inducing images for their wonderful young minds to ‘mull over’. Annie, Play Therapy Diploma Student
PLEASE FEEL FREE to share this with your community.
I am still really bothered by the ISPCC Childline HEADBomz campaign. It has been live across the Republic of Ireland for 2 weeks now, and for all that time parents, teachers, therapists, counsellors, and school Principals have been sharing their (and their children’s) experience of it on social media. It is still being shown on TV and YouTube, in cinemas and in schools (well – some schools, as more and more are choosing not to distress their children by showing it in class). The feedback falls clearly into 2 very distinct groups: those that love it and those that hate it. I understand why.
For the purpose of what I need to say, there are 2 types of children.
There are those who are generally robust, able, capable. These kinds of kids have their nervous systems working well. They are unlikely to have any current mental health conditions, and are unlikely to have ever experienced trauma. They may have ‘normal’ concerns and worries in life, and will be able to respond when encouraged to let people around them know when they are struggling. These are the children who will find the HEADBomz video hilarious. They will laugh and give positive feedback about the video and genuinely mean it. These are the children that most adults think of when they think about ‘children’.
But in my professional experience I know there is a second group of children.
These are the children who are already struggling with mild-severe physical and/or mental health conditions – whether they have yet been diagnosed or not. These are the ones suffering with OCD, anxiety, depression, PTSD. These are the Autistic ones, the abused ones, the sensitive ones, the fragile ones. These are the ones with learning and communication difficulties. I could go on… These are children who do not have the support of a nervous system that is working well in their favour. Children who are more literal. Children for whom visual image is significantly more powerful and impacting than group 1 kids. Children who are acutely sensitive – especially to fear. This group of children, if you are not already aware, is growing. They are a significant number in every classroom, every community.
This latter group of children are the ones we need to consider. IF we want to understand why so many therapists and experts in children’s mental health are so bothered by this video, and asking for it to be withdrawn we need to know this group is real, and just as important as the ‘normal kids’. They are living on every street, they are in every class, they will be sitting in every cinema screening. You may not be able to tell – that’s the thing about mental health issues – but they are there, here, among us. I know these children won’t ever be able to tell the ISPCC Childline what they really think, or how seeing this video has affected them… but if they could, this is what they would be saying:-
Dear ISPCC Childline
There is something really bothering me. It’s this new video. I see it in my head everywhere I go. It feels like I can’t get away from it. It’s really scary. I know it sounds silly – it’s probably because I am stupid – it’s probably my fault – most bad things that happen to me are my fault. I know it is a cartoon and it’s got a song too so I know it’s supposed to be for kids, but the thing is it makes me feel sick. I see people, children, getting hot. I see their eyes bulging in their head and then their heads exploding. I know what it feels like to get hot, to feel my eyes bulging. So what scares me is the next thing that is going to happen to me is my head will explode, wont it? I don’t want it to. I’m really scared that it will. I have started having really scary dreams about it… All from when I saw that video. We had to watch it at school. I was sat in class and all the children round me started laughing as soon as the heads got bigger and exploded, which was right at the beginning and then over and over and over again. A big hole got in my tummy. It felt like I disappeared. I got hot and fuzzy and felt sick again. I really tried to not let my face go red. I tried to not watch it, but not let them see I was hiding my eyes. They are my friends. They know lots about me, but they don’t know that I really struggle to be like them. I really want to be normal, and I try really hard. You have no idea how much strength I put into it… when all the time I just feel wobbly inside… I guess you’d call it frightened… someone said once it was anxiety. I don’t know about the right words. I just know it feels horrible, it makes me different and it stops me doing things and having as much fun as others. I so want to be like everyone else, I want to be normal. So when we had to watch the video and I saw them all laughing, I pretended to laugh too. For those few minutes I tried to pretend to myself that I don’t really feel exactly like the children in the video most of the time… Everyone else thought it was funny. I didn’t want to laugh but I did. I do alot of things I don’t want to do. But I REALLY don’t want to talk about that. My teacher was talking after it finished. I don’t know what she said. I could see her lips moving but I couldn’t hear anything. I just wanted to get out. I got home and was trying to forget about it. My mam said it wasn’t real and I should just stop thinking about it. I tried. I really tried. I wanted so much to forget about the video and those pictures and the laughing song. I played football, but every time my foot connected with the ball, with every kick, every impact, I saw another head exploding and flying across the field. I can’t stop them. The pictures from that video are just popping into my head all the time when I’m on my own. It got a bit better when I had my tea. We had my favourite and we laughed a lot at my little sister pulling faces. And then I watched some TV. And then it happened. It was there again. Instead of the adverts before my favourite program, it was that same video. That same song with the laughing in it. Those same exploding heads. Those children that are like me exploding. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move either. I can’t get away from it. Even at home I’m not safe from it. My friend said she saw the same video when she went to the cinema too. I won’t go there anymore. EVER. I wish I had never seen it. My friend said that the only way to stop my head exploding was to talk. What did she mean by talking? Is this the talking she meant? Talking about something that bothers me? I don’t want to explode. What should I say? What should I talk about? I’d say anything if I could. She said I should talk to you ISPCC Childline, but you made that video. You made that thing that everyone laughed at. I think you are laughing at me. You think how I feel is funny. You are making me feel unsafe at school and at home. I don’t want to talk to you – but I don’t want my head to explode more. I don’t know what to do. I wish it would go away. Please can you help me? Sam
You may think that this letter from ‘Sam’ is a bit extreme. I wish it were. Sadly it isn’t at all.
I have worked professionally with enough of these kids over the years to know how they think, what impacts them and what life is like for them on the inside. Everything that ‘Sam’ is saying has also been echoed in comments from parents and teachers that have been posting on the ISPCC Childline HEADBomz Facebook post and the Vodafone Foundation post. You won’t find many of them there any more – for some reason these and many other critical or concerned comments were being quickly deleted.
Surely, what is important now, is the realization that this video is harming many children. Both those in the 8-10 yrs target group, and those outside it. Is this right? Should it be happening?
More than Marmite
I am sure ISPCC Childline were expecting that not everyone would be over the moon about the campaign – that’s life in the world of marketing. Some will love it, some will hate it. But the difference is this is not about Marmite. This is so much more important. The people who don’t love it have good reason – the MENTAL HEALTH and wellbeing of ALL children.
IF you know of a child who has been struggling because of this advert, I’d love to hear from you. These children’s experiences need honouring. They are important and need to be heard. Please contact me privately here, or scroll down (a long way!) and leave a comment below.
For those who cannot speak for themselves…yet.
If you want to find out more about me, and my expertise to raise these questions, then please feel free to read my initial article in response to the campaign.
If you want to find out about what numerous children’s mental health experts are saying about the HEADBomz video then click here.
If you want to read find out more about what is happening to children – in their own words and pictures from seeing this ad campaign click here.
I saw something yesterday that really bothered me. I could just let it be, move on, pretend it’s no big deal – but that doesn’t feel right. I need to write this. I really feel it’s the right thing to do. So what did I see? The video for the newly launched Headbomz campaign. ‘Headbomz’ has been launched by ISPCC (Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) Childline in partnership with and funded by Vodafone Ireland Foundation. The video was created by award winning Aardman Animations (of the much less gory, Wallace + Gromit and Shaun the Sheep fame). If you haven’t seen it, I’ll post the link at the bottom of this article. It is a campaign apparently aimed at children aged 8-10 years to let them know that ‘Talking Makes Us Stronger’. The subliminal message is that if they ‘talk about things, they will keep their head for longer’… otherwise it will explode. Technically the video is really well made, no surprise there. The animations are powerful, graphic and seamless. The song is catchy and certainly delivers high impact and strong ‘ear-worm’ factor. It is going to be played on TV in Ireland and in cinemas, and in all primary schools, who will also have packs to give teachers ‘tips to help facilitate a FUN discussion with pupils‘.The packs are being sent to schools all over Ireland. And everything in me is screaming ‘no!’
So let me explain why I’m bothered. Let me explain a bit about myself.
After many years as a primary school teacher, over 12 years as a children’s play therapist, (often working with kids who CAMHS couldn’t reach) and more recently supporting primary schools who want a therapeutic approach to understanding their children, I specialize in working with children and adults who are still living with anxiety, chronic health conditions and other factors as a result of childhood trauma. I have a fare bit of knowledge and experience in the child-mental health field. I know a few things about children with anxiety. I know from professional experience and because I have been there too following my own car crash several years ago. I know anxiety from the inside out, from the bottom up and not just the top down (not just head knowledge) like many professionals who know about it, talk about it, but haven’t yet really met it personally. I know how those really worrying, anxious children will respond to this video. It won’t be good. Anxiety is a powerful, whole body experience. It feels like an overwhelming tidal wave of dis-empowerment. It affects heart, stomach, lungs and muscles all over our body, as well as our brain. It affects our nervous system, it affects our survival mechanisms, and it affects our voice too. When we are truly experiencing the power of anxiety it isolates us, shuts us down and makes it 500,000,000 times harder to connect to anyone else. I won’t get technical, but it is a powerful, visceral, experience and it can feel like your HEAD IS going to EXPLODE.
So why am I saying all this? Why am I taking the time to write this article?
Because the Headbomz campaign had a national launch recently, and was featured on the ISPCC Childline Facebook site, where the post (last time I looked) had 111 likes, hearts and laughs. Am I the only person who is concerned? – Well, it would seem so, according to the people commenting, and those involved with making it. However, discussion in another Facebook group among other experienced children’s therapists encountered the following comments:-
-Wow- My first reaction- it’s absolutely horrific! Graphic, gross, sensationalist. Can’t see myself using this and I cannot see how it could be helpful to children. -I don’t like this at all! -Also they are telling children that if they talk about it, will be fine. We all know that this is the hardest way for kids to express themselves so if they can’t talk about it, explosions will happen, not great for anxious kids. -creepy! scary! hard to understand. -It’s horrible. Aardman usually do fun stuff like Shaun the Sheep, don’t they? Gentle stuff, not horrific head explosions! No, Headbomz, this isn’t right. -That is intense and painful to watch as a therapist. -The message is very “in your face” and the volatile head explosions could be perceived as frightening. -What concerns me most is that someone in a child mental health organisation signed it off.
There were no likes. Nohearts. No laughs.
These comments may seem boring, harsh and poo-pooing, but I believe that, rather than ‘facebook rant’, they are all comments grounded in experience of working with children who have significant worries and need help to cope with life. These are all people who are spending their days working at the coal face of children’s mental health. People who know how powerful internalised feelings in children can be. People who are championing the cause and are USUALLY celebrating every time issues around children’s mental health are raised in the media…
ROLLING IT OUT
I have an image in my mind – of a class of 8-10 year olds being shown the video by a well meaning teacher – who is probably very grateful to have such a professionally produced resource to kick start the discussion around worries and anxiety and talking. I observe classes of children this age regularly and can picture it really clearly. There will be many of the children who have (thankfully) not yet become intimately acquainted with significant worry or anxiety, who watch the cartoon at face value, enjoy the catchy tune and respond to the animation the way so many did on FB – by laughing. And then there will be those other children, the silent sufferers. Those who are intricately harnessed to anxiety. Who have become so entwined with it they don’t know anymore what is them and what is anxiety… And who they would be if anxiety ever went away… They know the reality of feeling sick, feeling hot and the horrible familiar tightness in their body as the pressure builds inside. They will know that anxiety freaks them out, immobilizes them and …. is nothing they could EVER laugh about. But the thing is now their peers are learning about worries and anxiety and they are all laughing. So what does that mean? It means that instead of feeling more able to talk about what happens with them (which incidentally ANY therapist will know is incredibly hard for ADULTS to do and near impossible for children until they feel really, really safe and secure with the person they are with) they will feel even more isolated. The sense of people not understanding them increases, and they are alone in their overwhelm again.
Those are the kids that I feel sick for when I watch the video.
A PLEA TO TEACHERS
IF you are a teacher handed this resource for your class. PLEASE consider the following, before you decide to show the video and make worries and anxiety a ‘light and fun experience’ – for everyone in the class apart from the kids it is meant to help.
Children will only be able to acknowledge their own anxiety to people they feel VERY emotionally safe with. Occasionally this is a teacher, but more often it will not be. Don’t assume it is you.
If you have leeway to talk about the video from an objective perspective with your class before they watch it, you will give your ones who don’t like it, more room to say so.
In fact an anonymous vote after they watch it, (if they HAVE to watch it) will probably be your best bet to get as near to the truth about how it makes them feel when they are watching it, and whether they have ever experienced anything like this before.
Be aware that if their peers laugh at graphic images of children experiencing strong emotions and significant anxiety, that will have a HUGE effect on them. If YOU LAUGH while you are watching the video with them, then their isolation seal is final. Not even the adult who they have to spend everyday with in school understands what it is really like for them being them.
If you approach the whole topic with HUGE honesty and admit to your children if you have experienced this, then you have more chance of them coming with you. Acknowledge though that for each person the reason and exact experience of strong feelings and anxiety can be different. Please tell them – YOU DON’T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IT FEELS LIKE IN THEIR SHOES, even if you have experienced it in your own.
If you approach the topic with MIGHTY amounts of respect, empathy and acknowledge that you have never experienced this, then you can honour those kids who have (whether they acknowledge it in any way or not) with having gone through something in life that you haven’t – and in that way they will be your teacher.
Let me be clear. I am grateful for organisations like Childline who provide initial support for children who don’t know where else to turn. Childline is a chance for a brave child who feels they have no one else to speak to, to experience really being listened to, whether on the phone or online. Often just talking doesn’t change things for children, but being heard is ALWAYS a powerful positive experience. I believe that the biggest universal impact of the benefit of Childline’s service is helping children BE noticed and BE HEARD. It is a real shame to me that, with the resources that went into this campaign, the video didn’t focus on this, rather than the excessive exploding heads. Surely an opportunity missed. It also concerns me that with the wide-spread approach to raising awareness, younger children will be subjected to seeing this video on their TVs, computers and cinema trips. There will be some sensitive little ones out there who were fine before they saw it, but now… Wouldn’t it be great, instead of sending fear based messages ‘talking makes us stronger – so if you can’t talk you must be really weak’ – or the simple counterpart (talk or else you head explodes) to send a positive message to children about ‘talking to people who really listen helps us feel better‘? No one would have nightmares about that… It might even encourage more calls to Childline. I’m no graphics genius, but I can already imagine there could be some really powerful images to go with it too. My concern is for all the children who are already inmates in the anxiety prison, convinced there is no way they could currently talk about things they are going through. I can only hope and pray that somehow they will not now also be burdened with seeing their peers and society laughing at internalised emotions and anxiety = laughing at them. They don’t need to fear more consequences for their body than they are already dealing with in silence. My heart is exploding with concern for these children. I wrote this post for them. For these precious ones,
it’s not fun.
It’s not funny.
May we never disrespect children already suffering with mental health issues by suggesting it is.
If you haven’t seen it, but want to, here it is. Feel free to let me know what YOU think in the comments below. – SCROLL DOWN A LONG WAY!!
I have continued to receive messages from parents and children’s therapists and teachers working with children who have been affected by this video. What I feared is being played out. I have written a follow-on article to explain more about the impact this is having. You can read it here.