To the point - We must fight fear

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An increasing number of nurseries operate policies that restrict staff from touching or cuddling children. We do this because we are afraid of allegations of abuse, says Suzanne Zeedyk.

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The intensity of these debates has led me to the conclusion that we are living in a time of great fear. I think our young children are paying a price for our reluctance to look at that fear. We damage children when we are scared to touch them.

Humans come into this world with brains built for emotional connection. We are physiologically dependent on it for our survival.

Insights from a range of sciences are now showing that. If we live a life lacking in affection, our spirit withers. If the feeling of being ignored gets bad enough, we die. That was the point of media stories in the past about Eastern European orphanages. The children in them died from lack of love.

We have a problem in today's 21st century world. Several problems actually, all of them interlinked. One is that we parents work outside the home, so our children are left in the care of other people - other people who begin as and often remain strangers to us. We cover up this element of things by calling those strangers 'professionals'. The second is that we now know, as a society, that sexual abuse goes on. We did not openly know this until the 1970s, when the feminist movement bravely forced us to acknowledge that.

The third is that we love our children very much and we do not want them to be at risk of being hurt by the trauma of sexual abuse. The fourth is that the professional people who do the caring of other people's children do not want to be at risk either, by being suspected of abuse.


RUNNING SCARED

So we have ended up scared. Scared of risk. Scared of what some adults do in secret. Scared of what other adults might think, mistakenly, of us. Scared of what regulatory bodies might conclude and act on. Scared of our own children. We are made anxious by our children's physiological, evolutionary, human desire for physical affection - from us.

Our fear leads us to deny children's needs. We tell ourselves that we are keeping them 'safe'. We tell ourselves that if we explain to children what the rules do and don't allow that should satisfy them.

I want us to stop kidding ourselves. I want us to understand that the science is telling us how great the human physiological need is for trustworthy physical affection. When we do not get that as adults, we suffer. When we do not get that as children, we knit suffering into our growing neural pathways.

I want us to recognise that so many of our children today live lives barren of touch. They spend their days in nurseries with anti-touch policies, they spend their travel time in plastic containers called buggies and car seats, they spend their nights in cots in their own room, and they spend their anxious times alone because their parents have been encouraged to use 'controlled crying' as an approach to 'behaviour management'.

We need to feel strong enough to look at what we are currently doing and then to use that realisation not to blame anyone but to fix the problem.


MOVING BEYOND FEAR

So what to do to break out of the prison of fear? The first step is simply to turn and face our fear: we now recognise that sexual abuse exists, that it occurs in secret, and that it can cause lasting damage.

The second step is to forgive ourselves: for what we did not know about babies' emotional needs and for actions we have undertaken or neglected in the midst of our not knowing. We must stay focused on our intentions, because having confidence in our intentions leaves us better placed to come up with healthier solutions.

On the one hand, the news tells us that professional carers have committed abuse against children. On the other, the science tells us that our children need touch for their well-being. Thus, the task that now faces us is to hold both of these realities simultaneously in our awareness and to come up with solutions that do not unintentionally cause further damage.

Let us fight fear. Not just on behalf of our children, but on behalf of ourselves.

  • To read more of Suzanne Zeedyk's recent blog on this topic, go to www.suzannezeedyk.com or follow the debate on Twitter @suzannezeedyk.
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