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Children and Psychological Health

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From potty training to weaning, using the naughty step and choosing childcare, parents today are left in no doubt that the all-important ’emotional health’ of their child is at stake. Even if they don’t open a single child-rearing manual they are inundated with messages from health visitors, friends, family and popular culture about the potential for them as parents to create lifelong psychological problems in their offspring. They are urged to do all they can to bond with their babies and raise secure children with high self-esteem; but are terms such as ‘secure’, ‘self-esteem’ and even ’emotional health’ really as self-evident in meaning as it might first appear? Where did our ideas about what constitutes a psychologically normal child come from and how have they changed over the last hundred years? From an early emphasis on self-control and the development of a strong will, to definitions which centred on a ‘well-adjusted’ individual’s ability to adapt to their environment and the later focus on feelings of security and the perfectibility of mother love, this project will explore these shifts in how psychological health was understood across the twentieth century in Britain and associated transformations in notions of the ideal parent.

The Children and Psychological Health Strand is led by Emma Sutton, Postdoctoral Fellow on Living with Feeling