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Category Archives: Psychology

Child Poverty: Is a Child’s Success Dependant on a Parent’s Income?

 

Children in doorways: one standing in front of ornate wooden door, the other sitting in front of smaller door, showing child poverty comparisons

Who says the child with the bigger house and affluent lifestyle must automatically achieve more than a child in poverty?

The surge in child poverty has hit the headlines recently, and rightly so.

According to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2015-16. That’s 30 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30. Much has been reported in the media that appears to assert without exception that poor children do not reach the attainment levels of their richer peers.

While this may be true in many cases, it is not an absolute fact. It also insults low income parents who tirelessly make sure their children can access sufficient opportunities.

It is a fact that children succeed, (within their individual cognitive ability levels), largely because of the attention and input of their parents. This is true whether a parent is on Universal Credit or drawing a large corporate salary.

It is undeniably much more of an unenviable struggle for parents on benefits, but it is not a given that the better-off child will reach a higher attainment level.

There are major factors that position both of these parents’ children on an equal platform after the balance weights are adjusted. What propels children to future success is the ability of their parents or caregivers to provide a safe, loving and consistent environment, in which a child is stimulated and given the scaffolding needed to move forward.

Let’s not be under any illusion: poverty is often a significant barrier. Much more should be done to help families lift themselves out of poverty. However, the constant one-sided coverage about the lack of opportunities for poorer children slaps many diligent parents in the face. Parents who with limited funds provide their children with everything they need and more to propel their children forward – socially, educationally and cognitively. We must acknowledge that many poorer parents are resourceful, committed and multi-skilled in every sense of the word.

Parents who can stay positive while going to a food bank: that is a skill worth praising.

Parents who scour through innumerable charity shops, as many of our clients do, to provide stimulating toys to their children: that is selfless.

Parents who sift nightly through eBay listings to source a second-hand laptop for the kids: that is resourceful parenting.

Raising a child on benefit or a low income relies on skills that many successful executives would find a challenge if performed day in and day out without respite.

What these parents are modelling to their children is resilience and how to find solutions to life’s challenges. It is this resilience and determination that gets us all through the hard times. Many poorer parents have this in spades.

I was at breakfast in a hotel recently, and was struck by an obviously affluent couple. Mother, wearing a white fluffy bathrobe and slippers (presumably in readiness for the Clarins spa) was impatiently adding soya milk to a bowl into which she had carefully measured, several varieties of grains. Dad had his head bowed over a newspaper while absent-mindedly spooning porridge in the direction of their infant’s head. Their child, a boy, perhaps 4 or 5 months old, was propped up with an iPad for company, seemingly being entertained by a cartoon. The animated dog on the screen was getting more porridge than the child.  Neither parent noticed. There was no communication between the couple or interaction with the child.

Seriously, can anyone with a grain of cognition really believe that this child of better-off but distracted parents has a more favourable future than a child of the involved parent on benefits or a low wage? A child who receives a book or laptop from the charity shop and has an involved parent to interact with has a flat advantage over the Armani-dressed ignored child raised by a cartoon dog.

While poverty must be eradicated by assisting people to help themselves, it is also crucial that we applaud those parents who struggle and succeed every day to maximise their children’s chances. We need to be cautious about the black and white assumptions we make without considering the other variables that are in operation.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

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Black Friday and the Psychology of What We Buy

Shopping spree in brown bags with new clothing and electrical items bought in the shops

Do you need these new purchases, or were you lured by marketing campaigns like Black Friday, and clever displays?

24th November has long been called ‘Black Friday’ in the USA as a day for panic-buying Christmas shoppers but, for the last few years, it’s also been embraced by the UK.

You might remember seeing pictures in the papers of people fighting over wide-screen TV sets in British supermarkets, or queuing outside stores in the early hours to ensure they will be first in line for those Black Friday deals. We even have ‘Cyber Monday’, held the following Monday as an internet-only day of shopping deals, to add to the frenzy.

In the run-up to Black Friday, it’s important to look at the psychological drivers behind the things we buy. What makes us pick up that product that we didn’t know we needed until we walked into the shop, or until we clicked on a certain link online? And how can we be sure we truly want to buy it, whether as a Christmas present or at any other time of the year?

Black Friday: The Ultimate Special Offer, or a FOMO Trigger?

We live in a materialistic society: it’s a fact. Every day, we are bombarded with the new face cream that will change our lives, or the upgraded gadget that’s better than the one we currently own. The one-day deals of Black Friday, in particular, trigger FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out) for consumers.

If we feel we’re missing out by not buying, especially if we could theoretically save money with a time-limited special offer, we are putting immense pressure on ourselves to get out our wallets at a certain time, whether or not we can truly afford to spend money.

There’s a lot of social pressure surrounding this: the one-upmanship and the desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ (or, indeed the Kardashians, who will happily buy a new car or house at the drop of a hat).

Children are also susceptible to the lure of new and trendy products, as they try to fit in with their peers, and become champions of ‘pester power’ when you take them shopping. A US-based study by brand building expert Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandchild, found that parents spent 29% more when they shopped with their children – food for thought if you’re on a tight budget, or your house is already full of must-have items.

Shop open sign on retail outlet with goods in background to illustrate sales tactics by retailers including on Black Friday

Sounds, lighting and smells – not to mention the Black Friday discount deals they’re advertising – can all be used by retailers to attract customers.

Psychological Tricks Retailers Use

When you walk into a shop, retailers know how to get your interest. They invest in technology like eye scanners to test where shoppers look. Goods placed just by the entrance, or next to the tills, encourage spontaneous ‘add to basket’ moments.

Music and shopping have been interlinked by psychologists and marketers since the 1970s. More recent studies have shown that low music is better for shoppers, whilst Christmas music in shops can, unsurprisingly, invoke nostalgia. Add some spectacular window displays, in-store experiences and even scents pumped through the space, and you’ve got yourself a captive audience.

But who is the most susceptible to retailers’ tactics? The BBC’s Big Money Test from 2011-2013 found that certain types of emotional behaviour leave you more likely to impulse buy. Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Open University, worked on the survey, and wrote that ‘people who were high on impulsive buying behaviour tended to be people who had poor strategies for managing their emotions and were more sensitive to the highs and lows of positive and negative emotion. In other words, it seems likely that, for many people, impulsive shopping acts as a substitute for more effective ways of managing their emotions.’

The ‘Social Proof’ Concept

‘Social proof’ is big business for retailers: the idea that your friends, family or your fellow shoppers have already bought and loved a particular product, therefore it must be good. What’s more, you don’t have to know the people who have bought a product already. A car salesman might casually mention his sister has the same car you’re considering, and she loves it. An idea has been planted: this car must be a sound investment.

Online retailers are very savvy with social proof, too; think of the alerts on a travel website telling you ten people are looking at the same hotel right now, and that five people have booked it in the last hour. Meanwhile, all kinds of products and services, from books and clothes to plumbing work, carry online consumer reviews. If all those reviews are graded as four or five stars, it’s unsurprising you’ll feel more reassured in choosing a particular option.

When you’re faced with glowing reviews, it’s important to remember we all have individual tastes. What works for one person may not work for you. Your gut instinct is still important, so don’t ignore it.

Sale sign in big red letters with lighting, surrounded by red shoes in a range of styles

That one word to get your attention as you walk past the shop… dare you go in?

How to Think Clearly When Shopping

When you’re being pushed towards a product, stop and think:

  • Do you actually need it – will it make a difference to your life?
  • If you’re buying clothing, how many items in your wardrobe can you wear it with?
  • When the next version of the product is launched, will you still use this one?
  • Is there a cheaper or more sensible alternative – for example, if you’re buying a DVD, could you borrow it from your local library, borrow from a friend, or stream it online instead?
  • If the item is reduced, would you have paid full price for it in theory?
  • Would you have bought it without the brand name attached?
  • Are you buying it to cheer yourself up, as a distraction, or to mask other emotions? If so, is there another way to deal with your feelings, such as reading a book, having a bath, or arranging a therapy session?

Armed with these questions, you should feel better equipped to navigate the shops and make informed decisions, whether on Black Friday or during the rest of the year.

Written by a guest contributor for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).

Psychology wellbeing0 comments

A Cup of Tea in the Hour of Need

A cup of tea alongside teapots, milk jug and sugar bowl, all red china with white spotted pattern

A cup of tea can do more than you think.

It’s more than a cup of tea – it’s a cup of CALM.

A cup of tea.  How many nasty situations have been calmed by a cup of tea over the years?  I could not begin to guess; could you?

In 2015, an article in the Telegraph stated that the average British person enjoys 876 cups of tea each year: enough to fill more than two bathtubs.

Further research seemed to conclude that we Brits drink so much tea because it is associated with comfort.

Whether you take it with milk, lemon or two sugars, the fact remains the same: the presence of a hot, steaming china cup or mug of tea gives a feeling of safety and warmth, and it restores a sense of calm. This is no more true than in difficult circumstances or hard times.

A cup of tea – it really is a British institution. The bedrock of restoring calm.

So, today, when London has been rocked by another terror attack, it is no great surprise – although a welcome one – that the compassion of our capital city is shown by Londoners opening their homes and apartments, offering tea to total strangers.

A simple enough gesture, perhaps, but offering tea in this situation is actually a very powerful outward show of solidarity. It demonstrates care for total strangers who, away from home, found themselves caught up in a trauma they could not imagine.

A cup of tea in the aftermath of terror

These small acts of human kindness are extremely powerful. They are grounding and calming at the same time. Provided by strangers of all ages, these simple gestures will in fact prevent many of those poor people caught up in this latest atrocity from developing ongoing symptoms of trauma.

Coming to terms with trauma alongside others who are similarly affected, makes perfect sense. Basic human warmth, cohesion and generosity is sometimes much more powerful than anything psychology, religion or government can offer.

Making sense of an awful situation with the comfort of others is a powerful, calming influence, and bonding over a cup of tea will undoubtedly help.

Who would have thought that the humble cup of tea could be so necessary?

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

Psychology PTSD Uncategorized0 comments

To Smack or Not to Smack? A Sting in the Tail

Child reeling from parent's smack - physical abuse and smacking debate

Delivering a smack to your child: cruelty or discipline?

To smack or not to smack?  The debate rages on. Max Pemberton, a journalist and NHS psychiatrist, has caused a bit of a stir. He claimed that smacking doesn’t cause deep-seated psychological damage to children.

The issue was also aired on the TV show Good Morning Britain, on Tuesday 15th August. ‘Parenting Guru’ Sue Atkins and pro-smacker Katie Ivens both argued their cases, amidst some input from Jeremy Kyle (read more about the debate here).

In the wake of these opposing media views, I’d like to invite Dr Pemberton and Ms Ivens to shadow me on a working day. A working day where the effects of child violence, often verbally disguised as discipline, are all too poignantly seen. In a few cases, with tragic consequences.

The legal position on smacking: UK, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

Currently, smacking a child is legal in the UK as long as it doesn’t result in visible injury, but some members of the Welsh government and Scottish Parliament are lobbying for change. In December 2015, Ireland removed the ‘reasonable punishment’ exception and made smacking illegal.

In theory, many would agree that the occasional controlled smack, carried out by a loving parent, does not harm kids in the long term.

Imagine a situation where your toddler suddenly runs into a busy road.  There’s no time call him back.  Instinct ensures that you grab him, often roughly, by the nearest part of his body to prevent a tragedy.

This is necessary manhandling, fuelled by adrenaline. Most of us have done this and followed it up with a hug of relief, thankful our child is safe.  When a smack follows, rather than a hug of relief, what is it really about?  Is it to teach? Is it an outward expression of parental rage, a venting of feelings of failure for taking the eye off the ball so to speak? Is it perhaps an asserting of adult control over a smaller individual?  Is smacking for the good of the child, or to soothe the bruised adult ego?

In spite of this argument, there may be a case for smacking, but consider this. If all parents’ had adequate ego control, positive coping strategies and good emotional regulation, perhaps controlled smacking might be acceptable on some occasions.

The line between a controlled smack and physical abuse

The hard truth is, the abused children we clinicians meet up and down the country have never experienced a controlled smack in an environment of care.

The reality is that many children are physically abused daily under the pretence of smacking and good discipline.

When a parent loses control and physically chastises a child (which is often how smacking happens), it is often explained as disciplining an out-of-control child.

The situation is often that the parent has snapped, has in the moment lost parenting skills, and has instead reacted physically to the child’s behaviour.

Smacking would be okay, perhaps, if all adults could remain rational, calm and in control of their emotional regulation in times of stress.

The huge number of physical abuse cases show that many parents have neither the emotional resilience or practical skills to manage their children’s difficult behaviour and resort instead to physical punishment.  A smack in the hands of an angry and out of control adult can escalate into extreme violence. This is often under the misguided notion of discipline.

Physical abuse is one of the primary causes of both attachment difficulties in children, and more enduring mental health conditions. This is a primary reason why smacking is not acceptable. Smacking is the thin end of the wedge.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

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Words Were Originally Magic – Why Trump Needs to Read de Shazer

Words can be black magic

Words can be black magic…

Words Were Originally Magic is the title of an acclaimed book on solution-focused brief therapy, written by psychotherapist Steve de Shazer.

De Shazer’s solution-focused approach believes that the solutions to most problems can often be found in the words we use. This may, at first, appear naive.

In essence, to develop a more positive life, we each need to closely examine the words we use daily: we need a new story or narrative. Words offer the magic that is needed.

This belief system maintains that our problems persist because we keep on using the same old solutions; solutions that never worked in the past to solve our issues. Put even more simply, we usually try to solve our problems by putting the same wrong key in the front door and then wonder why it doesn’t open.

By using different ‘words’ or ‘change’ talk about the future, by visioning or thinking about it differently, we are on the way to changing a situation. This is where the magic of words comes into play.

The words we use, or do not use, are central to future outcomes.

This mode of thinking is also central to the belief of many seminal thinkers and the founders of existential psychology, such as Husserl, Morleau Ponte, Heidegger and Foucault.

Essentially, we create our future reality and eventual fate, good or bad, through the narrative we use.

But what if the narrative we use is wholly negative? It could be a narrative filled with threats, and driven by megalomania and narcissism. This, then, suggests that words may also have the potential to become ‘black magic’. In such cases, we need to use a great deal of awareness and cognition to examine what is about to leave the lips.

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, is spewing very frightening words directed at North Korea. The words are becoming darker.

In this blackening of words, there is an even bleaker construction taking place: a construction that threatens much of humanity. Words have the potential to become reality.

Now, more than ever, it is time words were thought about with just pause and contemplation.

All humanity holds its breath.

De Shazer, Steve (1994) Words Were Originally Magic, Norton, London.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk). 

communication Psychology0 comments