Young Children Learn Through Play and Social Interaction

Young children learn through interaction and imaginative play right from the word go.  In a very short space of time their brains absorb huge amounts of information, and their brains develop so that they can recognise words, body language and then more abstract things like autobiographical memory, feelings, they develop empathy and compassion.  So their early years experiences can be so important in helping them with their social and emotional development, not just their intellect. And play and interaction with peers and adult nurturing allows this.

So I was really pleased to see Ben Fogle’s rant in The Telegraph recently about the development of modern Lego.   Here is the link to his comments: Modern Lego.

Basically he is saying that when he grew up, lego came in a box or bucket of bricks or all shapes, sizes and colours. Children could then let their imaginations create anything from a small boat to a huge town.  Whereas modern lego mainly comes in boxes with the bricks and instructions to build a particular object, e.g. a spaceship.  The outcome is prescribed and therefore the onus is on getting the instructions right to achieve the stated outcome, rather than encouraging unlimited imagination.

And this prescriptive formula seems to me to illustrate what we are doing to our current generation of children.  They are told what they should be doing, how they should be achieving every step of the way.  The emphasis of learning is still on academia and a playing down of the more creative elements of the curriculum.  They are tested every step of the way and from a very young age a child will know if they are ‘failing’.  How damaging is this? Where is the spontaneity, the inventiveness, the desire to find out, the space and opportunity to learn vital social and emotional skills?  The time to just be children?  We should not assume that because a child is not engaged in, what is to an adult, structured learning, that our children are not learning.  They learn all the time.

In social situations they are learning the skills of negotiation, regulating their emotions, self-soothing, self awareness, boundaries, empathy, compassion, sharing, self-confidence – all skills that will enhance their wellbeing, and will help them in their academic life.

I feel there has to be a link between this prescriptiveness, over testing and the increasing incidence of mental health issues amongst young children.



Anger is just an emotion

Over the years I have seen many clients who have presented with ‘anger issues’ – either they come saying they have anger issues or they have been told they must ‘go and do something about their anger’ by someone else. What is common is that each person sees anger as being something bad, something to be ashamed about, and something they need to learn not to have.

But anger is an emotion like other emotions we experience, for example sadness, joy. Anger lets us know that something does not feel right, or is not right for us. The problems arise because many of us do not learn how to express anger in a constructive way, and it becomes destructive.

Many of us, as children, were told that it was not ok to get angry, and we were often told this in an angry way. So a double message my have been received – it is not alright to show anger, and anger is something to be feared. So we can grow up learning to squash down our anger, but the problem is the anger is still there, rather like a pressure cooker simmering away, until a trigger makes us blow, and hence anger can then be quite aggressive and is perceived by others to be frightening. It is often the little things, frustrating things which ‘tip us over’, and once we have tipped, it is too late to stop, even though we may feel remorse afterwards and wonder why we get so angry.

If we could learn to express how we feel about things as we go along, then this pressure cooker situation would not arise, as we would have been able to express, in a healthy way, our feelings of anger without the situation becoming confrontational.

Destructive ways of expressing anger can be both passive (e.g. depression, apathy, withdrawal) where perhaps we fear any form of confrontation, or aggressive (shouting, breaking things, hitting someone) where we cannot control our outbursts – neither is healthy because no-one’s needs are being met and much hurt and pain is caused.

It is ok to express how we feel in a loving way. Taking the time to learn how to do this can be life changing – both on an individual level and in relationships,

NHS Choices website has some useful tips about managing short term and long term anger – .

And a useful book is Managing Anger by Gael Lindenfield.

Government Task Force

Government CYP Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force

Mental Health is being forced high onto the political agenda and the Children and Young People Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce was set up in 2014 to consider ways to make it easier for children, young people, parents and carers to access help and support when needed and to improve how children and young people’s mental health services are organised, commissioned and provided

Key themes emerged bringing together core principles and requirements to create a system that properly supports the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people

The themes:

  • Promoting resilience, prevention and early intervention
  • Improving access to effective support – a system without tiers
  • Care for the most vulnerable
  • Accountability and transparency
  • Developing the workforce

(Source: Taken from the Department of Health and NHS England Future in Mind publication Executive Summary- you can find the whole publication here: 

Some statutory funding information:

Early Intervention aims to put in place support and services to prevent long-term costly and debilitating consequences.

In 2010 the government’s Early Intervention Grant (EIG) was introduced to support local-authority funded EI services.

From 2013-2014 the EIG is no longer paid as a separate grant, now forming part of the wider central government revenue allocation to local authorities

‘Cuts that Cost: Trends in funding for EI services’ – highlights over the last five years a compound reduction in EIG in Bristol of £62,200,000

The difference in annual EI grant allocation between 2010/11 and 2015/16 is £15,700,000

Nearly £17 billion per year is spent in England and Wales by the state on short-run late intervention, with the largest single items being the costs of children who are taken into care, the consequences of domestic violence and welfare benefits for 18-24 year olds who are not in education, employment of training (NEET)

Late intervention in the area of child protection and safeguarding account for over a third of the total

A small shift from late to early intervention could therefore have a massive impact for individuals and families.

(source – VOSCUR News December 2015)

Government CYP Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force  versus the Cuts in Statutory Funding

So bearing in mind it is reported that half of those with mental health problems as adults present symptoms by the age of 14, the theme of promoting resilience, prevention and early intervention would seem to be hugely significant for local authorities. I am wondering how this Government CYP Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force with its recognition of the main issues will transpose into financial support to achieve same?



Mental Health and Early Intervention

Mental health is very much in the spotlight at the moment and in particular it seems that young people are presenting with various levels of neuroses.  And often at very young ages.

It would seem that funding cuts will have a huge impact on early intervention which can prevent more complex problems arising and that other agencies, both voluntary and private, will have a part to play in helping young people with managing their own wellbeing, understanding, managing and regulating their own emotions, and ability to self-soothe.

Some disturbing statistics:
• 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class
• Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm
• There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased
by 68%
• More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time
• Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression
• Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression
• 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society
• 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder
• The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999

(Source –

• Boys are more vulnerable than girls; they are also more likely to commit suicide when they are older
• The World Health Organisation predicts a 50 percent rise in the level of child mental disorders by 2020. This would put them in the top five most common
causes of childhood disability, sickness and death
• Inner city children are twice as likely to suffer as rural ones. Black youngsters have the highest rate of any ethnic group
• Anxiety and phobias are among the most common childhood mental health problems
• In a typical primary school, teachers will be dealing with 12 pupils displaying conduct disorder (aggressive, antisocial behaviour), such disorders appearing
between the ages of 5 and 16. A third of affected children also have reading difficulties
• In a typical 250-puil primary school, 4 children will have phobias, 3 will have anxiety disorders, 1 will be seriously depressed, 12 will have serious
behaviour problems and 4 will be hyperactive
• According to Young Minds, many more will be suffering distress that may develop into a diagnosable disorder unless they receive help
(source: TES magazine)