Teddy Bear Therapy


The Things I Want MostIt’s been a number of years since I wrote book about working with a severely emotionally disturbed boy we accepted into our large family.  But I still get the occasional call from parents in difficulty with a child asking me to recommend a therapist or specific mental health program.

And I don’t.

Because after reading dozens of case files and speaking to literally hundreds of parents I’ve developed a contempt for these “treatments.”   The opinion that by and large, they are a con and do much more harm to children than good. That is if there is any good in them at all.

Although there’s no gainsaying their popularity.  Both individuals and scores of governments agencies aggressively push these “treatments” on parents. And according to the child and school psychologists, therapists and counselors themselves the reason is that everybody knows we’ve come light years in managing a child’s adjustment to life from the “dark ages” of only a hundred, hundred and fifty years ago when their professions did not exist.


Madame Curie went to pieces at age sixteen with what we’d now diagnose as Clinical Depression (major depressive disorder). George Patton couldn’t read and write until he was nine or ten.  Albert Einstein was a late-talker, Teddy Roosevelt was puny and asthmatic when younger and was treated by inhaling the smoke from strong cigars. The author of perhaps the greatest novel written in English Middlemarch George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) was so ugly at age five that even though she was a girl her father felt compelled to invest in her education.  But when she died the main reason she was denied a burial in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey was because of her torrid extra-marital love affair with George Lewes and then there’s the fact that late in life the ugly duckling also managed to attract a husband twenty years her junior.  Finally we come to Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) who was so bullied in school that today it would have meant the criminal prosecution of school staff.

Clinically depressed, can’t read and write at the same age as other children, won’t speak a word at the stage most children are chatterboxes, less physically robust than most, ugly enough to gag a maggot and bullied beyond belief.  So what is it exactly about these conditions in the past “dark ages” that “everybody knows?”  Is it that if modern child-care  advice, therapy and “treatments” were around then, maybe some of these kids would have turned out okay?  Had some success in life?  Lived up to their potential?  Made a name for themselves? Had grandchildren who made it to the moon?

The entire “dark ages” argument is a joke.   Children born in 1800, 1850 or 1900 almost universally faced conditions and dealt with problems today’s child-care “experts” consider debilitating and require treatment. Yet the years centered around the nineteenth century were without doubt the greatest period there ever was in terms of the advancement of the material comfort of the human race.  And in the success and happiness of children.

In large part because parents and children had something other than mental health “treatments” going for them.  They had the amazing cast of characters who invented Santa Claus and Christmas Morning, wrote Wind-In–The-Willows, Winne-The-Pooh. Huckleberry Finn and Alice In Wonderland, they had the nineteenth century “Robber Barons” who eliminated the need for child labor, medical researchers like Louis Pasteur and practitioners like Joseph Lister who rescued their children’s lives from much of the infection and disease which once killed every other son or daughter and let’s not forget Walt Disney got himself born around that time (1901), the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company developed the Red Ryder BB Gun and maybe most important of all, Teddy Bears were created.

Indeed one could consider the difference in self-confidence between children now and in the “dark ages” and convincingly argue that Teddy Bears have done more for children than every child psychologist, child therapist, children’s support group or parenting “expert” who ever opened a case file.

After all no child has ever gone to bed hugging the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

So why do we keep listening to these people?

In large part it’s because parents are reluctant to believe that the range of “normal” behavior or physicality in children extents over such a broad landscape.  That it includes children reading at either two or ten, the really pretty and well, the pretty.  It includes late-talkers and early bloomers, emotionally strong and the emotional.  In short that children aren’t identical hothouse roses but instead a bouquet of variegated wildflowers.

And in the age of science many parents cannot stop themselves from measuring their child against others.  Or out of ignorance against benchmarks thought up by academics or parenting “experts” whose personal standard of success (if we look), is how well their one thirty something darling is doing in drug rehab this time around.

Measuring also gets encouragement from “professionals” in state departments of education who make a career telling parents what skills their children should have at one age or another.  And from innumerable “studies” which purport to define normal behavior and skill levels by age and sex.  Studies which only serve to equip the army of paid child-care “professionals” with the tools necessary to bludgeon credulous parents into obtaining “treatment” for their child in any area in which they may not assess as well as their peers.  Anger management, sleep deprivation, hyperactivity, over eating, undereating, self-esteem, feelings of loss from divorce, dyslexia, depression, delayed learning, any number of fears whether morbid or otherwise.  A “treatment” for every human condition imaginable except a “treatment” for too much “treatment” (although I may be wrong in this.)

Moreover most of these “treatments” tend to sucker parents in because they’re so well dressed up in medical or scientific jargon they sound like science.

But of course they’re not.  Get your child diagnosed with the medical condition known as Whooping Cough (Pertussis) and scientifically developed antibiotics will kill the bacteria but if they’re diagnosed with the mental disorder called Asperger’s Syndrome (difficulty in social situations) your encouraged to raise your awareness about the condition (whatever that means) and then adopt various “strategies for success”, not a cure but “strategies.”

Or sometimes there’s the pill.  But again with no scientific basis either in diagnosis or treatment.  Indeed with ADD or ADHD (which many authorities argue are invented disorders) what you get typically is public school teachers successfully goading parents into allowing their child to be drugged in order to make managing a classroom easier. With the end result a society which seems to accept the fact that millions of its children have to be sedated in order to behave normally.

And how insane is that?

So instead my recommendation for parents unsure of how to deal with their child is to read I Know How The Heather Looks by Joan Bodger.  Or perhaps Gwen Raverat’s Memoirs (A Cambridge Childhood).  Read my book too.  Read something!

Anything with another point of view about the type of intervention the typical child requires in their life.  So that maybe, much more confidently, and certainly in more joy, they can go with the Teddy Bear instead.