Author: Alison Roy ACP
The Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) is the main professional body for psychoanalytic child and adolescent psychotherapists in the UK. Our NHS CAMHS based four-year training ensures that all our members have first hand experience of working with children in child mental health services, where we treat some of the most disturbed and vulnerable children, with traumatic and complex histories.
ACP trained child and adolescent psychotherapists therefore, understand the devastating effect that adverse early life experiences can have on the developing personality. We also see how young children in particular, suffer when they are placed under considerable pressure to meet the unreasonable demands of adults.
The current testing regime, especially for young children, is an example of this and seems to disregard so much of what we know about child development.
As part of our training, we child psychotherapists spend time each week observing a new baby through to two years old. Over these two years we witness how a secure attachment aids healthy brain development, social awareness and the capacity to show empathy towards others. We also see how children continually learn from experience, by making mistakes. How many children whilst learning to walk, never fall?
Young children make sense of their environment through practice and play. Every new step is checked out with their parent or carer and a healthy child will continue to expect – anticipate, praise and support. They rightfully deserve the approval and delight from others in their achievements and to be allowed to make mistakes as they continue to learn and grow.
If we follow this logic, primary education should be a continuation of learning through experience, with the security and support from safe and inspiring adults, adults who will allow and even encourage them to risk getting it wrong. We feel that placing a grade or score on a child’s shoulders is much too great a burden.
Children will very quickly start to see themselves as successes or failures – rather than individuals with great worth and potential.
Over the last decade we have seen a rise in mental health problems, many of which are anxiety related and even young children are using terms like “stressed” to describe their state of mind at school. Parents, teachers and mental health specialists are therefore asking for a change to the primary testing regime, because meeting an expected score or grade should not matter more to children than their enjoyment of learning, their happiness and their emotional wellbeing. We believe that young children should be encouraged to learn how to relate to others and to explore their environment through play, within the context of secure relationships.
Experience, backed up by research indicates that children who are happy and emotionally secure, will be more resilient and much more likely to succeed academically. They will also be much less likely to exhibit challenging and antisocial behaviours, or drop out of the school system completely.
As child mental health specialists, we are supporting the MTAS campaign and those parents and teachers who are calling for this change, specifically for young children in the primary school years.
The government recognizes the importance of early intervention when it comes to mental health and emotional wellbeing in the early years. Is it worth jeopardising this by placing huge pressures on young children to meet targets and scores driven by and generated to please adults?
We would argue for a system which allows schools and teachers to know their children, set realistic goals which enable them to feel proud of their achievements and one which supports environments where children can thrive.