Collaboration Forum Series 4: Optimism in tough times (Week-5)


Collaboration Forum Series 4: Optimism in tough times (Week-5)

Stay Calm & Carry on – The Secret Lives of Humans 

Change can have significant psychological effects on us all. How has the pandemic affected you, your personal life and your business life? How has it affected those around you in your virtual workplace, especially those who are neurodivergent? How has it affected your children? Watch our session recording to get inspired and challenged by clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, author and resident expert from Channel 4’s The Secret Life of 4, 5 & 6 Year Olds, to talk about positive life habits, neurodiversity, children and social media and much, much more…!


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Meet Our Inspiring Speaker

Elizabeth Kilbey

Dr. Elizabeth Kilbey, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and TV Commentator

Dr. Elizabeth Kilbey is a leading clinical psychologist and collaborates as child psychologist with British Channel 4’s “The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds,” an educational TV research experiment that glimpses into how children behave when grown-ups are not around. She has spent the last 15 years working with children both within the NHS and privately. During her career she has helped families to tackle toddler tantrums, teenage meltdowns and challenging mental health difficulties. Elizabeth is also the author of “Unplugged Parenting,” a book that has helped hundreds of parents address key issues during the early years of their children’s development, especially related to the time they spend in front of screens.

From children to adults: helping young people flourish in a post-pandemic world

Clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilbey knows a lot about children and young people. She was the resident expert on Channel 4’s hit The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds. Her work also helps companies understand more about neurodiversity. During the forum, she explained how to support children through the pandemic; how generational change happens; and why, sometimes, adults just need to get out of the way.

How do children develop?

Until the age of five, the brain grows prolifically, and makes endless pathways. But when children reach the end of this phase, there’s a system reboot, and some of these connections are pruned. Then there is a period of latency, until the age of 12 or 13. It’s a bit like winter: nice and quiet with lots going on under the ground. At this point, children are also quite moralistic and have a strong sense of right and wrong.

What comes next is adolescence. You need the period of latency to build emotional connections, because they are about to be tested. A child’s frontal lobes are getting ready to come online. They look after things like planning, risk management and delayed gratification. But the brain needs energy to develop these abilities. It powers down language and motor control, which is why teenagers lie down and grunt. Adolescence also represents the start of a child’s journey out of the family.

In many ways, parents can help by getting out of the way. Children know what they’ve got to do. They need to move and jump and talk and interact; and laugh and explore and fail and fall over. Parents can set up an environment that allows them to do that when the world is normal. But we are not living in normal times and haven’t been for 12 months. A year is a long time for a grown up but it’s an unbelievably long time for a child. Parents can help children to understand that this period won’t last forever, and they will move back into more familiar times. That will help them make sense of this experience.

How can we best help children at the moment during a period of instability?

Children need stability and consistency. But they also need containment. Being a child is a pretty carefree experience. If your external reality is stable, you feel heard and understood, there’s a roof over your head and food, you can be a child. But children are impacted by adults and, in turn, they have been impacted by the pandemic.

Think of it like this: children are awash with feelings, a bit like the sea. As a parent your job is to be a bucket that holds the swell of water. As long as you stand still, the water level will settle. But if you are bombarded by a stressful reality, you won’t have much capacity to do that job. Parents should try and seek as much support as they can. This will help them feel the world is safer, which will settle their children, and help manage their environment.

This period has also shown children that difficult things do happen. Parents can’t prevent them, but they have the skills and resources to get back to normal. They can demonstrate to children that while they don’t have control over these challenges, they have control over their responses to them.

What influence does digital media and technology have on children?

I take a moderate stance on social media and technology. But my concern is that young children need time to develop motor, language and social skills. There’s quite a lot to pack into their day and screen time gets in the way of that journey. I often compare screen time and sugar. Would you give your children unregulated access to sugar without having a conversation about its health implications? Probably not. So, screens have got a place in your child's life, but you should have a plan, some rules, and limits in place.

When they reach senior school age, you’re in a slightly different territory. Social media becomes screen time and gaming is part of the adolescent experience. It’s an extension of how they define themselves as a group, how they express their interests and how they connect to each other. During adolescence, a lot of these things exist in a way that our generation is not supposed to know about. They are meant to keep us out as part of their journey to adulthood.

I’m also aware we are currently putting children in front of screens six to eight hours a day for education. We don’t know what impact this will have. We don’t know what future education will be like. Part of me hopes that virtual education will help the children I work with who struggle being in school. But I’m concerned that when the new normal arrives, we’ll have grown used to more technology in our daily lives.

How are future generations evolving as a result?

My generation is different to my parents and my grandparents. The purpose of adolescence is to make yourself different, in some way, to the generation above. Every young cohort reinvents themselves: from the mods and rockers to the punks, and the swinging 60s. It’s no different now.

I think we’re breeding a generation of people who communicate differently. My children don’t ring their friends. They will only phone people over the age of 30. There’ll have conversations through different platforms, and it looks like overload to me, but they don’t see it that way. While it works for them, it doesn’t work for us, so we’ve got to cross the generational bridge.

Because this cohort of young people will decide on the environment it wants. If you have a whole company made up of individuals with the same way of thinking, that’s how they operate. When you get stratification of an organisation along these lines people struggle to relate to each other.

How can we best help young people into the workplace?

There are two sides to this: the first is to understand the values they have; and secondly, their willingness to be upfront about neurodiversity.

A lot of young people talk about values more than money. They want organisations that care about their environmental impact, diversity and inclusivity. They want to work for companies that think beyond the bottom line. That’s what gives them validity and enriches their experience. It’s not about joining the bottom ranks and taking a pay cheque.

I have spent most of my career working with children and adults with neuro developmental difficulties: dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and ADHD, for example. They are more prevalent than people realise. Companies need to understand neurodiversity as a profoundly different way of thinking. An autistic person is very detail focused, very precise and very categorised, for example. A typical brain is vague and works with ‘gist’ and coherence.

If your workforce is made up of people with different ways of thinking they are going to be valuable. But I think employers are often worried about how they will adapt. Can they just have more regular meetings with their managers? Can things be written down instead of spoken? It doesn’t mean anything complex at all. It means asking the individual what they need and how things can be adapted. So, you’ve got to work with them.

I’m mentoring a young person who had an interview for university recently. The interviewer asked: ‘Do you have anything to say?’ And they said: ‘Yes, I have dyslexia; so. I’m really interested in how the university would support me…’ The interviewer replied: ‘Well, we would try and assist, but in the modern workplace we wouldn't want you to use this as an excuse.’ This is the 21st century. You can’t say that.

When a young person approaches an organisation, they’re testing them out; it’s a two-way process. Future generations have a much stronger sense of their identity and they don’t want to compromise. They want to join companies that value authenticity. We need to help people understand and feel comfortable with difference. My children have educated me enormously around this topic. So, actually, the young people are the answer to our understanding of these issues.

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