Bold thinking to tackle the blight of relationship breakdown

Why we need to make teaching children how to build happy, healthy and emotionally rewarding relationships a priority.

It is an inescapable fact that relationship breakdown has terrible, life-changing consequences — not least on children, far too many of whom are caught up in, or witness to, child and domestic violence, sexual violence, partnership breakup, family breakdown and the fallout from workplace stress.

It is a tragedy when just one child’s life is affected by such events. The reality, sadly, is far grimmer. National statistics paint a sobering picture of relationship breakdown in the home, the workplace and the wider community.

Here are just some of them, detailed on my Fractured Relationships webpage:

  • There are up to 3 million cases of child abuse, involving nearly 5.5 million children
  • Something like 5.4% of adults – in other words 1 in 18 adults, or 2.4 million people – suffer domestic violence
  • An estimated 20% of women and 4% of men experience some type of sexual assault after the age of 16
  • The UK continues to have some of the highest levels of family breakdown anywhere in the world
  • According to a 2018 UK workplace stress survey, 49% of all working days lost in 2016-2017 were reported as being due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The Health and Safety Executive cites relationship problems at work as one of the main drivers of workplace stress.

It would be foolish to believe that such problems can be solved quickly. There is support available for those who need immediate help and to deal with the human consequences of relationship breakdown.

However, we also need a longer-term strategy, one that is sufficiently radical and ambitious to address the root causes of relationship breakdown rather than just its symptoms. Part of that strategy needs to involve teaching children — the next generation of adults — about how to build happy, healthy and emotionally rewarding relationships with family, friends and fellow pupils.

Relationships is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which the Forum for Life-Based Learning believes the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Relationships learning theme arms children with key skills as they begin to construct an ever-expanding web of relationships at home, in school and in the wider world, including — ultimately — the workplace.


Find out more about the Relationships learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to tackle relationship breakdown

Image at the head of this article by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay.

What is our response to the damaging effects of social networking?

The Social Dilemma docu-drama, available on Netflix, is a must-watch for parents and teachers — and a wake-up call for us all.

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American “documentary-drama hybrid” which explores the rise of social media and the phenomenon of social networking. In its own words it “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

Parents and teachers know the hours children spend on devices of one sort or another and how much technology is capable of eating into family life and home learning. Many schools have banned mobile phones, worried about the impact on learning in school.

However, there is a much more sinister side to social media, according to the documentary-makers. The damage it is causing — including to our children — is alarming and perhaps not what we might expect.

If you have access to Netflix, I highly recommend this 94-minute programme. If not, follow the links below to see excerpts and to watch a discussion involving some of the people who made the programme.

Official Clip 1

Official Clip 2


As parents and teachers, we share a common desire — as well as a responsibility — to safeguard our young people. We want young people to be confident and creative users of information and communication technology. At the same time, online safety — especially in relation to young people and social media — is one of the major public health issues of our time.

In addition to safeguarding implications, social media also impacts on the way we communicate with each other and the relationships we form as well as on our mental health and wellbeing.

Life-based learning addresses those challenges directly. It prioritises giving children the knowledge and skills to look after their mental wellbeing, to communicate effectively and to create positive, long-lasting relationships in vibrant communities.

Click here to read more about the Emotions, Communication and Relationships learning themes.

It’s important for children to learn about non-verbal communication

The ability to communicate non-verbally is a key ingredient in strong relationships. It makes sense, therefore, that — from a young age — children should be learning all about what is involved in communicating effectively with others, non-verbally as well as verbally.

Non-verbal communication is the reality for all of us as we start out in life as new-born babies. And as we grow and our verbal communication skills develop, so the non-verbal develops as well.

The development of children’s understanding and effective use of non-verbal communication skills is crucial in their development of positive and lasting relationships.

Yet the non-verbal is largely ignored and, at best, misunderstood in the current UK National Curriculum for primary school children aged 5 to 11.

The life-based approach to learning, on the other hand, focuses on teaching children the importance of non-verbal communication.


Body language

The Dynamic

The relationships theme brings research on paralanguage, body language and the relationship dynamic into the classroom to help children learn that interaction with others is made up of much more than merely the words spoken.

Click here to read more about how life-based learning will tackle relationships education as one of nine learning priorities for children aged 5 to 11.

Image at the top of this post courtesy of Tumisu on Pixabay

Fern Britton’s brilliant interview with Linford Christie

Teachers need to learn from Fern Britton’s excellent use of para- and body language in her recently shown BBC TV interview with Linford Christie.

I was as much taken by Fern Britton’s interview technique as I was fascinated by Linford Christie’s personality and achievements.

Fern oozes oodles of empathy in her body language with her warm and engaged facial expressions, positive gestures and body movement.

Her tone, pitch and speed of voice is spot on.

She gave the impression she knew Linford well. Whether she did or not, she was certainly very relaxed in her interactions with Linford – the mark of a true interviewer.

Not once did she falter in her interview technique, even when asking Linford about difficult times he faced in his life.

Of course, teaching a class of school children is not the same as interviewing. However, unconditional positive regard for children, positive voice, positive body language and use of language to obtain the best response from children still applies.

The Life-Based Relationship Learning Theme includes children knowing about and practising how to communicate positively in their relationships with others.

Image credit: What Is Paralanguage? by Ashish Arora

Diversity as a fundamental aim

An interesting letter in today’s Guardian from Simon Gibbs, Professor of Inclusive Educational Psychology and Philosophy at Newcastle University.

His letter was one of three published in response to an article by Melissa Benn, arguing for the ditching of GCSEs as part of a transformation of schools.

… to focus only on exams misses the real point. There is much more at stake.

The heart of what schools do, what teachers do, should not be simply determined by children and young people’s attainment against narrowly defined criteria of knowledge, but about what they could do as citizens of the future. That is more likely to depend on their understanding and respect for each other, and their ability to collaborate rather than compete.

Today’s attention on exam results reiterates a debate founded on competition and individual ranking; with winners and losers, it is an exclusionary debate. What is needed more than ever is a curriculum that enables young people to learn about difference, diversity and civilised society. The main transformation of education should therefore have an aim of promoting inclusion.

Simon Gibbs, Professor of Inclusive Educational Psychology and Philosophy at Newcastle University

I omitted a couple of sentences at the start of the letter. The full text can be read here.

Society is one of the three life areas around which the Merged Action Curriculum is organised. Its focus is on building healthy relationships and stable, inclusive communities.