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 It is shown frequently on TV, YouTube and in cinemas (UPDATE: just now withdrawn from cinemas).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:-
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.
This is an important message for anyone starting any professionally supported healing journey.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am an advocate for people of all ages, getting help and support when we need it. There are times we all need someone who is professional, appropriately trained, qualified and experienced to walk with us for a bit. I have been there. It can really help.
However, I recently heard the experience of a dear lady who had been referred for counselling by her GP. She is a sweet, caring, funny, and well mannered lady. She comes from the generation who grew up before technology. No TV, phones, texts, tweets or Facebook. And as do many survivors of childhood trauma, she has strong values around not hurting people, or doing or saying anything that might make someone upset.
She had been struggling with physical and mental challenges for over 3 years, and finally found the strength to ask her GP for help. Desperate to start to feel better, she plucked up all her courage and arrived for a counselling session – the first of the 6 she was allocated.
She didn’t like it much. When I asked her why not, she explained ‘the lady’ sat behind her table and spent a lot of the time staring out of the window. “It was strange. She didn’t look at me, I’m not sure if she was listening, she just kept looking out of the window – I thought she must be on the look out for a nice young man!”
This is not ok.
It is SO. NOT. OK.
When she told me this I kept myself professionally together, but noticed an internal volcano erupt. It was a combination of sadness for this precious lady who was treated this way, and absolute indignant rage that she was treated this way by a ‘professional’ who is supposed to help her get better, not make things worse.
This is not how it is supposed to be. And the truth is it is not how it is for many, many people. But it had been her experience and sadly it can happen. So should it be of interest to you or anyone you know, here is my advice. This is my plea.
DO THIS TO HELP FIND THE RIGHT PROFESSIONAL FOR YOU
1. If you ever find yourself meeting someone for the first time, who has the credentials to see you through a journey of healing (mind, body or spirit) then please, please, please, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If you do not feel safe in every way, with them, your journey with them will be a superficial one at best, a waste of time at middle, and further damaging to you at worst.
2. Please vote with your feet, and if you are not comfortable, and don’t feel you can challenge the practitioner (I know this would have been impossible for me when I was post-trauma suffering with depression or anxiety symptoms) just don’t go back again. You don’t need to. It’s about getting YOU the right help match for you. Either you could ask for a different professional from the same organisation to work with or go somewhere completely different.
3. See your first meeting as an interview or audition... and it’s not you on trial; it’s the professional. If they don’t meet the simple and appropriate criteria of making you feel SAFE, HEARD, RESPECTED and UNDERSTOOD, or if anything feels ‘off’ to you, then just be grateful you didn’t go any further down the line with them and move on.
I fully understand that it takes some real emotional energy to do this – much easier to go along with what the ‘professionals’ say. However I think many people don’t realise that they can and SHOULD have a voice and need to OPT IN to working with someone you feel will be a good match for you.
As my conversation continued, I was hoping to hear how this lady’s horrible experience got resolved. It didn’t get better – she just stuck it out. She kept going – attended all 6 of her allocated sessions, “but I didn’t really say very much. It didn’t help me at all really.” After her final session she was sent a feedback form through the post. She dutifully filled it in and sent it back. What did she put? “Oh I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I just ticked good or excellent for everything.” I understand why she did this.
Whilst the improvement of mental health is a massive deal at the moment, so is keeping the standards of the professionals privileged with this work appropriately high. I never agree to work with anyone, adult or child, until we have had chance to meet and they have a chance to check me out and see how they feel with the journey to get to me and being in the room. We know who we feel safe with. We know when we don’t.
If you don’t feel safe, don’t go back there.
4. Do not assume all counselling experiences are the same. If you have already been through a similarly ineffective experience, and know you are still not OK, then consider trying out some different types of therapy. Creative Arts therapists are a great choice for people who know there are things in them but not sure how to get the words out. There is a whole new approach where a therapist works with you to release tension from your body, without you having to talk about what has gone on at all if you don’t want to(TRE). Thankfully, on the suggestion of a close family member, this precious lady, came to try TRE and is already well on the way to living life better now than she has in years / decades.
You don’t have to stay stuck.
There is healing.
There is HOPE.
There is HELP – when you find the right person and approach for you.
Many, many children go through a stage in their development when they don’t like going to bed, and the reasons can be many and varied. Parents often tell me their children are generally fine and ‘the behaviour’ only begins when it is time to start the bedtime routine. One dad I spoke to described in detail the battle that ensued between him and his daughter. Her delaying tactics were many and varied (and quite standard repertoire); refusing to go up the stairs; refusing to get into bed; distraction techniques; food requests; drink requests and refusing to sleep without the light on. He was annoyed that it was such a palava and cross that she wouldn’t just do what she was told and go to bed/sleep. I have had this same conversation many times with mums too, over the years.
When I asked him why his daughter didn’t like going to bed, he looked at me blankly. It was a question he didn’t have the answer to. He had never stopped to find out. Like so many parents, he was getting sucked into the ‘bed-time-battle’, thinking that this un-cooperative child was the foe to be avenged, for the prize of a quiet evening and some child-free time. This picture is so common it is scary. Scary? Because it means there are so many children resisting going to bed for reasons only they know. If no one else knows then they are not being understood and not being helped emotionally or practically, they are alone with the thing that is the REAL enemy. Their real challenge.
Solutions and sleep come quicker when parents and children join forces and work together. I’m sure you have noticed, but the middle of a battle of wills between an adult and child is never a good time to ask the child what they are scared of. If they know you are already wound up (and angry with them) then they will not feel safe to tell you the truth about their anxiety. Much better progress can be made if this conversation happens at a time when both adult and child are calm and doing something else together and bedtime is not imminent.
Want to know exactly what to say and how to say it, to get the breakthrough you both need?
CLICK THIS BOX and get your free version of the script I give to parents.
If you get to the point where your child actually tells you what is bothering them, then YOU MUST UNDERSTAND how brave they have been to tell you. At this point there is one MAJOR MISTAKE parents often make.
MISTAKE: Tell the child there is nothing to be scared of.
Remember your child plucked up all their courage to risk telling you what scares them (if they had found it easy to tell you in the first place you wouldn’t have had weeks or months of bed time battle) and now you are telling them they are wrong or stupid to be scared about that. This leaves children feeling wrong, stupid and still scared – as no one stopped being scared about something just by being told to not be scared. What TO say and do is coming soon in another post. For now just make sure you STOP and LISTEN and really HEAR them and try to imagine what it might feel like for them to have had this fear they have carried on their own and getting lots of anger from you because they couldn’t handle it alone. Communiction Cues to End Bed-Time Battles. Get FREE download here
Last week there was a documentary on British TV about children and sleep; a crisis hitting our younger generation. I’m sure we all know the horrible feeling of not having had enough sleep – it happens to us all from time to time. However, the additional knock-on effects of so many children not getting enough sleep as a regular occurrence, are huge. The consequences are being faced by teachers, charities and the NHS. It is a problem on the increase – referrals to a sleep lab at Sheffield Children’s hospital have increased a staggering 10-fold in the last decade.
The program explored the impact of sleep deprivation. Even just 1 hour of missed sleep, affects alertness, brain function, concentration and problem solving. Some children in schools are functioning up to 2 years behind their peers because of the impact of sleep deprivation. Everyone knows poor sleep will impact emotional regulation and behaviour (whatever age you are), but not everyone knows that sleep deprivation can also lead to weight gain, obesity, and other health issues.
If you missed the 30 min program, I have posted the link at the bottom of this blog so you can watch it on iplayer (UK only I think).
Sleep is an issue I have talked with parents about over and over through the years. It is becoming a more frequent topic with my adult clients too, so I watched the BBC Panorama program with interest to see what angle the media were going to portray (what comes out of my television is not always information I agree with especially when it comes to topics of children, health or well-being!) I was glad they highlighted the impact that screens are having in children’s (and adults brains); how screens stimulate brains and get them more alert. Children are more and more frequently handed a screen to ‘keep them quiet’ while adults get on with other jobs. Whilst the volume of noise coming from a child whilst they focus on a screen may be significantly less (!) their brain is being woken up and stimulated – the exact opposite of the ‘calming’ that parents think is happening. Children who are handed a phone or tablet screen for a bed-time story or allowed to watch some ‘calm down TV’ or videos are actually being handed the very tool that will be causing them to struggle going to sleep.
Just as a brain is stimulated by the blue light in screens, so other chemicals going into the body can have the same impact. The big factor here are the chemicals known as ‘food and drink’. Children who are given foods with a high sugar content (from glucose or processed carbs) for their evening meal and drinks containing sugar and/or caffeine, are being handed stimulants that will spike their blood sugar and create a bedtime nightmare for everyone.
3 Essential Elements for Easier Sleep
1. At least 1 hour of screen-free time before expecting to go to sleep.
This includes phones, tablets, computers, TV, and anything else that emits ‘blue’ light. Screens in their many variations are widely understood to be addictive. If you have created a bedtime-screen routine for you or your children, that is based in addiction then of course it will be ‘interesting’ to change the habit. It will be your decision whether to try the ‘cold turkey’ approach or a slower ween. Either way it will be totally worth it for the better sleep from having a brain that is ready to slow down and rest without the stimulation of the blue light.
2. From after school no sugar-fueled ‘food’ or drink.
Too much sugar in the blood triggers the production of too much cortisol…which again adds to the stimulation in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that sends a message to the brain that we need to get ready, stay alert because ‘we are not safe’. No one found it easy to go to sleep harbouring a feeling of not being safe. It is against our primeval survival coding.
3. Choose carefully what you focus on before sleep
It seems obvious to say, but arguments and tension, anxiety and fear never help as pre-sleep factors (and yet so many parents think that shouting and raising everyone’s stress levels until a child submits, is the best way to go). Quiet colouring, listening to a story CD, reading a ‘real’ book, writing, drawing or talking about any worries from the day as well as things to be grateful for from the day and things to look forward to tomorrow, are all ways to slow heart rate down, calm the brain and get the body ready for sleep.
For many children and adults, these 3 factors alone can make a huge difference to their ability to go to sleep at a reasonable time, and improve the quality of sleep that follows… and the level of functioning the following day.
Do you know a challenged sleeper?
Have you tried these?
I’d be interested to hear how you got on…
For children who still struggle, even when all these foundation factors are happening regularly – it can be time to explore sleep concerns level 2. These weren’t covered at all in the program, and I’ll be writing about them next…
If you want to see the program for yourself click below.