Susan Witte

Hello! My name is Susan Witte, I am (among other things) a journalist and this is my personal blog. I post here a lot of random stuff I write (in English and Portuguese); photos I take; videos I make; or anything else I found worth sharing. Feel free to leave comments, even if you don’t agree with me – I love to debate. I hope you enjoy my little space here and thank you for your visit!

Click here if you only wish to view posts in English.


Olá! Meu nome é Susan Witte e eu sou, entre muitas outras coisas, jornalista. Você está no meu blog pessoal, onde eu posto meus textos (em português e inglês), fotos e videos – ou qualquer outra coisa que eu achar interessante. Fique à vontade para deixar comentários, mesmo que não concorde comigo (adoro um debate!). Espero que goste desse meu espacinho de mundo e obrigada pela visita!

Clique aqui se só quiser visualizar posts em português.

My teacher is not a native speaker: what now?

Can non-native EFL teachers be as good as a native English speaker?


I wasn’t born in the UK, or the US, or Australia, or South Africa. In fact, I wasn’t even born in a country where English is taught effectively in schools. I learned English growing up, as my interest in languages and media attracted me to one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. When I was 18, I realised I loved teaching and that there was a high demand for English teachers in… well, everywhere; so, I decided to become an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher. Over the last ten years, however, my experience has shown that being a non-native EFL teacher can be tricky at times. It has nothing to do with my knowledge of English, my experience or my ability to teach. Nevertheless, the myth a non-native speaker isn’t as credible as a native one has impacted my career in a myriad of forms.

After all, does the place where I was born determine the academic outcomes of my students?


Learning goals: become British

I learned American English first, which is probably Hollywood’s fault. As many other countries, Brazil is highly exposed to American media, such as films, TV shows and videogames. Throughout most of my English-speaking life, I had an American accent. As a teacher in Brazil, students tended to think I was American. When I lived in California, Americans commonly thought I was their compatriot when they first met me. It wasn’t until the conversation reached cultural roots or childhood that my credibility would plummet.

I’ve had a number of students request a different teacher, because they wanted a native one. I was turned down in job applications, because I couldn’t provide a British or American passport. I got so used to receiving this treatment, I would settle for a lower pay than my native-speaker colleagues, even though we were working at the same school, doing the exact same job. When I first arrived in the UK, I thought I was never going to get a job as an English teacher and was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t the case. In my first job interview for a teaching position, I had the following exchange:

  • I don’t have a British accent, is that ok? – I nervously asked.
  • Why would that be a problem? – the puzzled interviewer responded.

The question caught me by surprise, I did not know how to answer it. Why would it be a problem?

Students often say when they first arrive in the UK for their study abroad experience and are asked about their objectives: “I want to speak like a British person”. Some are disappointed to realize their teacher may not be British. Fair enough. You came all the way to the UK and paid a lot of money for your course to realize your teacher has the same nationality as you. It does sound disappointing. Stick around though, I have a few questions for you:

Are you studying English to communicate effectively, or to become British?

If you answered the latter, I’m sorry, but I cannot teach you that. I’m not British. In fact, as a vegan  football loather who can’t samba to save her life, I’m not a very good Brazilian either. Having a certain nationality doesn’t come with an onset of traits you can absorb or copy; and there isn’t a level of Britishness one can acquire. People are very different within nationalities and that includes the way they speak.

Should only native speakers teach their language?

If you hear an American, a Brit, an Irish and a South African having a conversation, you’ll notice there is a big difference in the pronunciation, the choice of words, the expressions and even the meaning of certain words. That’s because language is a highly mutable phenomenon, which adapts to the communication needs of its users. English today is different from 10-year-ago English, and that’s because the people who speak it are not the same as ten years ago. People change and so does language. New vocabulary emerges every day, along with expressions, ways of pronouncing certain words, etc. Language is not an exact science like mathematics, you can’t just learn a certain grammatical formula to communicate effectively. Learning a language means understanding the context in which you’re using it.

But, are differences between an American and British speaker, for example, that far apart from the differences between a British and a Turkish national speaking English at a fluent level? Won’t there be, in both cases, different accents, different word choices, etc?

I dare say, there are more differences between the English of my British and American friends, than there is a difference between my Brazilian sister’s (who also lived in both countries) English and both those nationalities’.

I have taught Portuguese before, and I regret to say I am not very good at it. One of my British colleagues at Stafford House knows Portuguese way better than me. She studied it for many years and knows grammar rules I didn’t even realise existed. My knowledge and experience with English are way better than my Portuguese. Should I really be teaching my native language?

Who are you going to use your English with?

If you live in a country where English is not the main language, or if you live in a city like London or New York, there is a great chance most of the people you speak English to are non-natives. World-wide, there are more non-native speakers of English than natives – estimates vary: from 330 to 360 million people speaking English as their first language and between 470 million and 1 billion people speaking English as a foreign language. Therefore, if you intend to use your English with native speakers only, you’ll be limiting your range of social and business opportunities.

Is speaking in a certain way more important than being understood?

When we speak a language, any language, we do it to express an idea. Whether this message is received and understood determines if effective communication actually happened. If where you live, work or socialize, the way you sound when you speak affects how people perceive you, you might want to spend more time polishing your accent rather than learning how to organize ideas and arguments, for example. That’s understandable. How harmful perpetuating this approach can be is a whole other topic. The fact is, a non-native speaker can still help you speak more like a native, even if they don’t have the exact accent you are pursuing. That’s because, for starters, you don’t speak with your teacher only, especially when you are in an English speaking country. Also, their ability to teach a language isn’t necessarily affected by the way they speak. Which leads us to the last question.

In a teacher, is their ability to teach less important than their place of birth?

It might have happened to you in secondary school, university or a course: the teacher is a leading expert in their subject, but you don’t have a clue what there are saying. Being a good engineer doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at teaching it. You might have this lecturer with a brilliant resume and still not learn much from them. The other way around is often true: an average engineer is really good at teaching it, and their students go on to become better engineers than their tutor.

This happens because learning isn’t about listening to an expert and absorbing as much information as they’re sharing with you. Effective teachers are there to broaden our minds, help us learn on our own and with each other, develop critical thinking and debate issues. Teachers are there to facilitate learning, not to tell you what to think, how to speak and what’s right or wrong.

When it comes to teaching a language, of course knowledge in the subject is important, but how much you learn will depend on your tutor’s ability to teach. It is known that in EFL teaching, a low TTT (teacher talking time) leads to better learning outcomes. That means that being less exposed to your teacher speaking English and instead speaking more with your classmates, listening to audios, watching videos, etc, is probably more beneficial than simply having a native speaker in the classroom (unless, of course, the native-speaker is a properly trained teacher who does exactly that).

I’m not saying there aren’t other effective approaches to teaching English, but this is one we know to be effective. I’m also not saying you can’t learn from talking to a native speaker. Of course, you can. The question here is: are native speakers better teachers than non-native ones? I suspect that, at this point,  you either agree with it or you don’t, so I’ll leave this question unanswered.


                Linguistic Imperialism

As described by Robert Phillipson in 1992, this notion that native English speakers are superior and that we must learn how to be more like them comes from a phenomenon he called Linguistic Imperialism. In his book, Phillipson analyses the processes through which English has become an international language, which is deeply connected to a history of oppression.

Being born in Britain or the US, for example, gives you more social status in a third world country than having a better academic history. This is a discussion, however, that requires a whole other article. For now, whether you speak English as your first, second, third or tenth language, we can merely accept the fact that it has become a lingua franca across the globe, so we might as well use it.

And since we are using it to communicate with people from different countries, cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities, why not try to be as adaptable and open as possible? Why not try to make sense of why people speak the same language in different ways and embrace our accents and differences, helping other people understand us and doing our best to understand them? More than 1 billion English speakers wouldn’t all speak the same way, and that’s okay.

Attachment and the classroom

When the words attachment and teaching are used in the same sentence, a whole array of reactions tend to occur. While some of these reactions are positive, many teachers become quite defensive. Some of their arguments are listed below:

  • Teachers already have so much to worry about and do, attachment is just one more responsibility unjustly given to teachers;
  • Teachers are not meant to do the parents’ job;
  • Teachers aren’t therapists;
  • Teachers need to maintain a professional distance from the students in order to protect themselves from accusations of abuse.

I don’t really get the last one. To me, denying a crying child a hug is abuse in the form of neglect. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

These arguments demonstrate how overworked and stressed teachers are. They are afraid that more responsibilities will be thrown at them – and they have a point, it does tend to happen on a daily basis – and they will be under even more pressure. The application of attachment theory in the classroom, however, is not meant to make teachers’ lives more difficult; it is meant to make things easier.

Yes, you read it right. Easier. As an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher I find these arguments a bit strange, not for lack of empathy for the teacher, but because language teachers have been applying attachment friendly methods for decades without much fuss. We have learned, from research, that they are very effective when teaching a foreign language, rather than traditional teacher centred methods. Therefore, we implemented them, made them the norm and have had very positive results. I wonder if it would be more difficult to do the same with other subjects.

To explore this crazy idea, I’ll try to answer these three questions in the next lines:

  • What the hell is attachment, anyway???
  • Why is it relevant to teachers?
  • How can we make attachment aware teaching possible… and enjoyable… and easy?



According to John Bowlby – the guy who made attachment a thing – attachment is:

“Proximity-seeking to the attachment figure in the face of threat, due to the capacity to sense conditions that could be dangerous: being alone, unfamiliarity, rapid approach”.

Got it? No? Me neither. I needed a better explanation and I understood attachment for the first time during a training session with Suzanne Zeedyk.

Click here to watch one of her lectures.

Click here to access her blog.

Zeedyk has a less orthodox way of explaining attachment: she talks about sabre-toothed tigers and teddy bears. Imagine prehistoric human beings using their instincts to survive from predators. If a sabre-toothed tiger attacked the group, it would likely go for the weakest, easiest prey: the babies. The babies can`t protect themselves or run away, but their parents can do that for them. While adults have the instinct of running for their lives, babies have the instinct of getting the adult`s attention so they don`t get left behind. Babies cry and scream because they don`t want to be left alone, they want to be held and kept close. This attachment is key to their survival, so it`s the most fundamental part of their nature. When they don`t have that, all that`s left is fear – which can mean trauma, anxiety and a range of emotional issues.

To make it clear, Zeedyk describes an internal teddy bear. A child uses a teddy for comfort, and little by little they develop their own internal teddy bears they turn to for comfort in moments of distress; that`s them building resilience. But this can only happen properly if they had this comfort in their early childhood provided by their parents (or whatever caring figures they had) in the form of attachment.

If teddy bears are the antidote to sabre tooth tiger fear, how do we build our internal teddy bears? Is it only with the help of parents or primary care-givers? If we don’t develop during our early years, is it possible to fix it? The answer to these questions is in how our brains work, which also answers the question on why this is relevant for teachers.



I must stress at this point, that even though I am passionate about psychology, I’m not a neuroscientist and the explanations below are rather simple. I have asked experts to check them, though, and they said it isn’t wrong, so let’s do this!

This is your internal teddy bear, your frontal lobe:

Not as cuddly as one might have thought, but it works wonders. The frontal lobe is, among other things, responsible for our ability to:

  • learn, reflect and concentrate;
  • plan and problem solve;
  • manage stress;
  • control impulse;
  • regulate emotions.

As you probably gathered, our students’ frontal lobes are very important to us teachers. If they are not functioning properly, students fail to learn. They also fail to behave, which is not helpful and it makes our lives much harder.

According to Margot Sunderland, author of The Science of Parenting (2015), this part of the brain is not fully developed when we are born, we need to learn how to use it.

Our lower brain, however, is fully functional and very much online from birth.

This part is responsible for (again, among other things we don’t need to focus on now):

  • hormonal forces;
  • emotional systems;
  • fight or flight reaction.

This is why when a toddler is hungry they might throw themselves on the floor crying and screaming and have a distress tantrum. They don’t have a fully developed frontal lobe to warn them: food will probably come soon, your mum always makes lunch at twelve; why don’t you play for twenty more minutes and then go check if it’s ready. As adults, with a well-developed frontal lobe, when we feel hungry we tend to keep calm and go make ourselves a sandwich.

The development of the frontal lobe is deeply connected to the way the lower brain is activated. It has 7 hormonal systems at work:

  • CARE
  • PLAY
  • RAGE
  • FEAR
  • LUST

LUST is related to sexual behaviour, so we’ll ignore it for now. Let’s talk about the other six:


CARE                                       RAGE

SEEKING                                 FEAR

PLAY                                         PANIC/GRIEF

The ones on the left are pro-social hormonal systems and the ones on the right are alarm systems. Different situations may activate one or more of these systems, which function like muscles. The more they are activated, the stronger they become. Growing up with the alarm systems being frequently activated by a certain parenting style, or more severely by abuse and trauma, the child may become an adult with these systems very much present in their lives.

To use Sunderland’s example, it’s like a faulty car alarm that goes off for any reason. If you work for customer service, you might have noticed how this situation is very common. Because the alarm systems were constantly activated throughout most of this person’s life, they compromised the development of the frontal lobe. Louis Cozolino, author of The Social Neuroscience of Education (2013), explains that:

“Nonloving behavior signals to the child that the world is a dangerous place and warns him or her not to explore, take chances, or trust others. It also teaches him or her not to trust the information others are trying to convey”.

What these alarm hormonal systems are basically saying is: you are in danger, there is a sabre tooth tiger around, you need to either run or fight it. There is no time to learn, no time to regulate emotions, you need to act or you’ll die. Many adults and children often get aggressive or withdrawn in the presence of a problem; they tend to calm down when somebody comes to their aid. Babies, who can’t fight or run, cry. When an adult picks them up and calms them down, the CARE system is activated and they feel safe.

The pro-social hormonal systems are key for the development of the frontal lobe. The more they are activated, the more we make positive connections in the frontal lobe. When we feel safe, loved and are surrounded by people who make us laugh, our brains are at ease and ready to learn. If a child or adult doesn’t feel safe in the classroom, they will have a much harder time learning.

Here’s a model of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

When it comes to learning, it is believed that the deficiency needs should be met in order for the growth needs, or learning, to come about optimally. However, I dare say that “feeling safe”, or shall we say, attachment needs, should be at the bottom of the pyramid, along with basic physiological needs, such as water and food. In fact, feeling safe is more important for learning than actually being safe. I’ll tell you why.

A very sad experiment conducted in the 1950’s by Harry Harlow – to be fair, it wouldn’t pass an ethics committee nowadays, but since we have the data, let’s use it – analysed the behaviour of new-born monkeys when offered two types of inanimate surrogate mothers: a cuddly cloth one and a wire one. Both surrogates provided milk for the monkeys’ nourishment.

All monkeys preferred the cuddly one, even when they didn’t offer any milk. In one of the variations of these experiments, the monkeys were divided into two groups and offered either the cloth or the wire mother. The monkeys with the cloth ones survived longer than the ones with the wire ones, even after the milk was removed from the cuddly ones.

The saddest part is that Harlow didn’t really need to conduct this mean experiment. We had empirical evidence from UK orphanages in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In reaction to the appalling death rate among the children, and thinking it was the result of the spread of germs, doctors recommended contact among children and with the staff should be kept to a minimum. That made the death rate rise even more. It only decreased when physical contact and nurturing was encouraged.

Authors such as Louis Cozolino and Jeremy Rifkin, who wrote Empathic Civilization (2009), defend that nurturing, or attachment needs, are at least as important as water and food for human survival. Hence why we also need them met for learning to occur.


Applying attachment theory in the classroom

Now, to the practicalities. How can we activate those pro-social hormonal systems in our students’ brains to help them learn? Here are some things we do NOT need to do:

  • Be the students’ parent;
  • Be the students’ therapist;

Here are some things we could do:

  • Listen to students and let them have say on how to make the classroom environment as comfortable as possible so that they feel safe there;
  • Have empathy and treat them with compassion;
  • Prepare attachment friendly lessons.

By attachment friendly lessons I mean those who activate the CARE, SEEKING and PLAY systems of the brain and avoid the alarm systems. Cozolino has a few suggestions:



As pointed out by Cozolino, Research shows that “play enhances sensorimotor development, social-emotional skills, abstract thinking, problem solving, and academic achievement” (2013). Jokes, games and any fun activities will help students learn, no matter the subject. That includes adults!

I appreciate that the concept of fun may be different for children and adults. Getting to know your students and what they enjoy is very helpful. In my practice as an EFL teacher, I like to use quiz show style games for the boring grammar activities. They are the same activities, but the fact I turned them into a competition between two or three groups makes it a lot more interesting.

Some of my peers have shared a lot of interesting games for learning and recycling vocabulary, which go from simple pick a word and give hints so the rest of the group can guess what the word is, to a twister mat with words stuck to the spots. Kahoot.com and jeopardy games go a long way using technology and fun to review materials. Role-plays are also fun and help develop a number of skills.

Just by making students walk around the room and physically move during an activity you’ll be activating their PLAY and SEEKING systems. By making activities as social as possible, like group and pair work, you’ll be also activating the CARE system.



When students are curious and have an urge to learn more, discover and explore, they SEEKING system is being activated. In class, I sometimes have students find the answers to a question by looking for them on the walls or under their chairs, etc. A little blu-tak can help with that. I also like to take my students out of the classroom to have a lesson somewhere more stimulating, such as a museum or a park. A stimulating classroom, with things for students to look at and resources for them to use can also be very good for the SEEKING system.

Exploration is great not only for learning but also for health. “The effects of environmental stimulation on brain growth are so robust that they even counteract the effects of malnutrition” (Bhide & Bedi, 1982 apud Cozolino, 2013). When a student is curious about something, don’t dismiss them and, instead, give them the tools to find out more.



Story-telling can be used in two ways: the teacher using a story to teach something and the students sharing their own stories. Stories help organize neural integration, which means your brain cells form new connections, connecting different pieces of information to enhance knowledge. Our brains also have unlimited storage for stories and songs. Whatever is taught through them is more likely to remain in long term memory.

When students share their own stories or simply write them down, this helps them regulate their emotions, which is great for their frontal lobe development. Putting feelings into words also boosts immunological health (it’s actually shown to increase T-helper response!) and lowers heart rate. Sharing their own experiences helps students calm down and feel like they belong, activating the CARE system, especially if classmates are listening and reacting positively.


Student Autonomy

Teachers have their own biases and judgements. We can’t help it, our brains are programmed to have them. By taking a step back and giving students autonomy in their own learning, we expose them less to these biases.

One of Albert Bandura’s contributions to the study of education psychology is the self-efficacy theory, whereby he defends that one’s expectations for themselves can influence their own performance. Therefore, people may think in a self-sustaining (optimistic) or self-debilitating way, which could affect their performance positively or negatively, respectively. Because of the social nature of humans, society can widely influence our expectations of ourselves and other people.

Therefore, when a teacher has low expectations for students they see as weak or less talented, they tend to live up to those expectations. Teachers can inflict such an influence because of our position of authority. Students tend to look up to and trust their teachers (which is great, otherwise they wouldn’t learn from them), so our impressions, even when not explicitly expressed, will have a powerful impact on the pupils. Their classmates, even though they can still affect how students feel, won’t have such a powerful impact.

Peer teaching can be a great way to avoid that exposure. When we supply different students with pieces of information and have them teach each other, we are activating their CARE system by showing we trust them. It is also a very social activity, which is always positive.

In EFL we recommend a reduction of TTT (teacher talking time) as a way to make the lesson more student-centred and give them a chance to learn from each other. In this method, the teacher is there to give students the tools to learn by themselves cooperatively rather than transfer knowledge.


Teacher well-being

Last, but not least, teachers need to also be feeling safe in order to teach effectively. Cozolino explains that “when a teacher is harsh, critical, dismissive, demoralized, or overly stressed, their students attune to and come to embody these antilearning states of brain and mind” (2013). Both teachers and managers have a role in maintaining the staff’s well-being.

If we carry on using the attachment approach for management, the principles are the same. How do we activate the pro-social systems in teachers? I have a few ideas:

  • CARE – being listened to (but like, really!), belonging, having a say, participation on decision making, no micro-managing, mutual trust between staff and management, teacher autonomy…
  • SEEKING – professional development, training sessions, trying new methods and new activities, sharing materials, peer observations…
  • PLAY – staff socials, dynamic work environment, encouragement to create fun lessons, places to relax…

The ellipses are there to emphasise there are many other things which can be done, these are just a few suggestions.

Depending on where you work, some of these might sound obvious, but they are still rare in UK companies. For teachers – as well as other professionals – to remain motivated, they need to feel they are working together for a greater good rather than for financial reward (for themselves or the company). “The beneficial effects of this approach on productivity, efficiency and morale are well documented by experiments in factories, but whether through complacency or ignorance are largely ignored by British managers” (Sutherland, 2013).

It does not mean that teachers can be underpaid and still be happy and chirpy. We still need to get paid enough so we don’t have to worry about money. Once that is out of the way and we have our other deficiency needs met, including the attachment ones, then we are ready to live up to our potential and continue to develop in our career. Happy teacher, happy students.



  • Aubrey, K. and Riley, A. (2016). Understanding and Using Educational Theories. London: Sage.
  • Cozolino, L. (2013). The Social Neuroscience of Education. New York: Norton.
  • Cozolino, L. (2014). Attachment-Based Teaching. New York: Norton.
  • Illeris, K. (2009). Contemporary Theories of Learning. New York: Routhledge.
  • Mooney, C. G. (2010). Theories of Attachment. St. Paul: Redleaf Press.
  • Pierson, R. (2013). Every Kid Needs a Champion. Video recording, YouTube, viewed 01 Oct, 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFnMTHhKdkw>
  • Positive Psychology Program (2016). Albert Bandura: Self-efficacy for Agentic Positive Psychology. [online] Available at: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/bandura-self-efficacy [Accessed 01 Oct. 2017]
  • Rifkin, J. (2009). The Empathic Civilization. New York: Penguin.
  • Sunderland, M. (2016). The Science of Parenting. 2nd New York: DK.
  • Sutherland, S. (2013). Irrationality. 2nd London: Pinter and Martin.
  • Zeedyk, S. (2015). Sabre Tooth Tigers &Teddy Bears. Video recording, YouTube, viewed 21 Feb, 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsAV_qez7SE&t=5932s>

Using Google Images in Class

Resultado de imagem para interactive boardTalking to a group of teachers the other day, we agreed how interactive boards were an amazing resource in the classroom. I mean, who needs flashcards when you have Google Images? Googling visual aid for students, however, can be a tricky business. Especially if you are an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher like me, and might use this resource quite often, increasing the chances of checking out seemingly innocent words just to realise they have an obscene side. Google is always improving its filters, but sometimes even Safe Search filter fails to prevent students from becoming traumatized or teachers from having an extremely embarrassing experience.

Here are some ideas to help you use Google Images safely and words to avoid searching.


Rule 43

“If something exists, there’s a porn version of it”.

This is important to remember. ANYTHING can turn into porn. Odds are, if you scroll down long enough your Google results, from “Muppets” to “Suffragette”, you will find something disturbing. Most words, however, are safe to search if you don’t scroll down much.

Some words can show unwanted results from the first line of images, though. One fellow teacher found out the hard way that “thick” is also used to describe giant female bottoms. Here are some other unsafe words and groups of words:



Avoid googling words like “big”, “huge” and “enormous”. These usually refer to sexual organs.



Most nationalities can be tricky, and I’d be especially cautions with the words “Asian” and “Brazilian”.



This one leads to a number of inappropriate memes.



It’s relatively safe, but scrolling down can lead to nudist beach pics.



Don’t ever google that. A safe alternative is to Google “octopus” and point out the tentacle. Really, don’t google tentacles… you’re welcome.



You can kind of guess this one, right?


Young, old and mature

Yup, not very safe at all.



I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes you’re just thinking of actual missionaries. It’s not as bad as most of the previous ones, though.


Pokemon names

Most Pokemon names (Pikachu, Nidoking, etc) lead to porn for some reason. If you have children, you might want to watch out for that.



This one is pretty safe for Google Images, but so not safe for videos.



By itself, the word is pretty straight forward. It’s a fruit, that’s it. But Google images will show as one or the first alternative options, a Japanese manga (comic book) which is quite sexual. Also, if you google “lemon party” you’ll instantly regret.


Please let me know of any other words that are unsafe to google in class.


And whatever you do, don’t ever…   EVER google “blue waffle”.


Told ya.

The Hand of a Ghost – Why you should support the families of medical cannabis patients

In the mild Californian winter of 2011, something wouldn`t leave Jason`s mind: a gun. Any hand gun would do. It would be fast and painless. A bullet in his brain meant the end of all that suffering; a relief and peace he hadn`t felt in years. His son`s screams echoed in the distance as Jason contemplated this idea. With Jayden`s frequent visits to the E.R., that thought – a hand gun`s silhouette against his own temple – was becoming ever more tempting. However, the same screams that were driving him insane brought him back to reality.

Jason needed to focus; he couldn`t abandon his son. Amidst one of Jayden`s many daily crisis, whose screams now sounded loud and clear, Jason realized he needed help. He called his mother:

  • Jason and Jayden David

    It`s today, mom – he tried to explain what was happening as he cried for help – I can`t take it anymore! It`s over, mom! It`s over!

Knowing exactly what it was about, Jayden`s grandmother begged her son to go to church and focus on his prayers. Jason hadn`t given up faith, he kept going to the same churches, Shelter Cove and St. George`s, whenever Jayden was stable. He attended Sunday`s service and prayed for a sign. Knowing the situation Jason was in, the preacher asked everyone to pray for him and his son, asking God to send them a sign:

  • Not in a week, not in a month… Jason needs a sign today, Lord! Jason needs a sign tomorrow! – he shouted.

Jayden had a few weeks left to live.



Jayden was born with the SCN1A gene, unnoticeable until his first seizure, when he was four months old. The first seizures were grand mal – strong muscular contractions, visible even while happening under his clothes. He soon started having clonic seizures, causing involuntary movements. By the time he was two, Jayden had all types of seizures there are and the crisis would happen every day, all day. His parents took him to several different doctors to try to understand what was wrong, but no one seemed to have a clue.

A genetic test finally confirmed the diagnosis: Dravet Syndrome, a severe, incurable and virtually untreatable form of epilepsy. The syndrome usually manifests in children younger than one and the treatments available may or may not help control the seizures. As Dravet Syndrome is a rare disease – one every 30 to 40 thousand children are born with the gene – there is not a lot of investment by pharmaceutical companies in research, as there isn`t much profit to be made so it wouldn`t compensate the expenses. The available treatment options, therefore, are tried one by one to see what helps the best.

After the diagnosis, which is already hard to get (it took Jayden almost two years of exams and different doctor`s appointments to find a definite answer), the search for the right treatment becomes a race against time. With each seizure the child is closer to death, as they cause brain damage that could be irreversible. Jayden had cardiac arrests in some of his crisis and had to be resuscitated at the hospital. When Jason thought of spending time with his son he didn`t think performing CPR would become a major part of it. The syndrome doesn`t only paralyze a child`s life, it devastates the family. No wonder many parents can`t take the pressure and end up getting divorced, which was also the case of Jason and his wife.

When Jayden was four years old, he had tried every treatment available, among diets, natural treatments, chiropractic treatment and several different medications. Nothing seemed to work. Jayden took 22 daily pills, which ended up debilitating him even more. One of the pills, clobazam, commonly used for Dravet Syndrome and other forms of epilepsy, could cause some of the following side effects: difficulty with swallowing; fever; shakiness and unsteady walk; unsteadiness, trembling or other problems with muscle control or coordination; change in speech pattern; restlessness; slurred speech; trouble sitting still; trouble speaking; agitation; bleeding gums; blistering, peeling or loosening of the skin; chest pain; confusion; trouble breathing; hallucinations; seizures… and this isn`t even half the list.

The drugs would prevent Jayden from sleeping and eating, and he would cry for hours, afraid of his hallucinations and due to other unpleasant effects caused by the medication and seizures. By the time he was four and a half, Jayden couldn`t speak, walk or chew. All he did was scream and cry. The seizures were increasing and he had up to 500 severe muscle contractions a day. Jason ran off the jewelry store he worked as a manager almost every day as his son was being taken to the E.R. by an ambulance.

Two days after going to church begging for a miracle, the first sign finally came. Jason was walking to work when he received a call from the office saying his boss had given him four months off. His co-workers had written a letter to the shop`s owner about Jason`s case and asking for him to have some time off to spend with his son. The request had been promptly accepted.

The second sign didn`t take too long to come. A 15-year-old boy had been caught smoking a joint at school and was suspended. The local news decided to use the opportunity to run a report on drugs in high school. During the interview, however, the boy made a strange revelation: he suffered from epilepsy and weed helped control his seizures. His parents couldn`t tell whether he was telling the truth.

Jason couldn`t get the news report out of his head so he decided to do some research on the subject. He never expected to find out what he did: cannabis had anticonvulsant and antispasmodic components called cannabinoids. He was introduced to CBD (cannabidiol), a cannabis component that functions as a neuroprotector and antioxidant, exactly the kind of substance that could help protect Jayden. He was surprised to know that the United States government held a patent on the use of CBD and other cannabinoids for neuroprotection and antioxidation – the patent number 6630507. Nonetheless, the American government keeps cannabis classified as a schedule 1 drug, along with heroine and LSD. The schedule 1 substances are considered extremely dangerous, highly addictive and have no accepted medical use. None of that made sense.

Jason had an appointment with his doctor in San Francisco and decided to ask for his opinion. The doctor`s advice was of such flexibility it renewed Jason`s hope:

  • Your son is dying. It`s a matter of life and death now, it`s worth a try.

Convincing his family wouldn`t be that easy. He had the three-gram cannabis oil dropper for two weeks before he had the courage to give his son the first drops. Jason`s mother kept saying:

  • You are going to kill your son! Give marijuana to a child in this state? You are crazy!

Jayden was dying anyway and Jason had nothing left to lose. When he finally put the three  drops under Jayden`s tongue, Jason spent, for the first time since his son was four months old, and entire day with him not having a single seizure. He was seizure-free for another four days. That was to Jason, without a doubt, a miracle.


A revolution

The “miracle” has been part of our history for thousands of years. The neurologist Ethan Russo, a cannabinoids specialist, in his report “Clinical Cannabis in Ancient Mesopotamia: A Historical Survey with Supporting Scientific Evidence”, explains that the ancient Mesopotamians, at the dawn of civilization, knew about some of the medical uses of cannabis. He mentions  that their “topical ointments used in the treatment of an ancient malady called Hand of Ghost, now thought to be epilepsy, included cannabis as a key ingredient” (Russo apud Bennet, 2010, p.20).

In the nineteenth century, William B. O`Shaughnessy, an Indian Company surgeon, collected information about how the Indians and Chinese used cannabis medically. He tested the plant on animals and, after concluding it was safe for human use, gave it to his patients. O`Shaughnessy stablished a good reputation after using the exotic herb to control a little girl`s seizures and reliving rheumatism pain from other patients. He also realized cannabis was useful treating spasms and a series of other ailments (Conrad, 1997).

If all this information about cannabis having a myriad of therapeutic effects was available in its five thousand years of history, why was Jason, in 2011, the first to try treating Dravet Syndrome this way? Jason asked himself this questions over and over.

At first, when he initiated the new treatment with Jayden, he couldn`t be happier with the results.

  • It was paradise, you know. Every day Jayden is ok it`s like paradise.

One by one, he took Jayden off the conventional medication and the results were even better:

  • I took him off stiripentol and he stopped screaming; I took him off topomax, he took ten topomax pills a day, he started chewing and running. He couldn`t even walk before and he started running after that! Later I took him off Depakote and he started comprehending. Then I took him off a little bit of clobazam, we are on the last milligrams of clobazam but it`s very hard to get him off. He suffered too much with withdrawal syndrome.

Withdrawal syndrome is common when it comes to these highly controlled drugs, as they cause physical dependence. A sudden interruption of the medication could be fatal. Jason had to therefore remove each one of the pills slowly in the last few years. He says he is getting to know his son for the first time.

  • It`s taking me 22 pills to find out who my son really is. I can`t wait to meet him.

Jason was able to save his son`s life and he wanted other parents to know about it. He kept on researching and realized that the fact cannabis could treat severe seizures wasn`t new, but very few people knew it. He thought of all the families, all the children who had lost their lives slowly, suffering. It made Jason extremely upset.

Trying to get the word out wasn`t at all easy.

  • All the parents who are now fighting in other states were against me in the beginning – he says, referring to the parents who are fighting for their children to have access to medical cannabis in states where it`s still illegal – I was kicked out of every patient group, all the Dravet meetings, they thought I was crazy. Now they are all big medical marijuana advocates.

Jason hasn`t received any apologies, but he is happy with the result. From the small town of Modesto, California, he initiated a revolution that would soon take international proportions. Since he started treating Jayden with cannabis, several families have been doing the same. Paige Figi, who saved her daughter`s (Charlotte) life with a high CBD strain of cannabis, found out through Jason what to do. CNN made Charlotte`s case famous and the knowledge about the pediatric use of cannabis spread across the world. We can now see families working together in many different countries, to make sure cannabis can be recognized as a treatment.

Breastfeeding vs Bottle-feeding

Me, breastfeeding my then 21 month-old son on a train in Hamburg, Germany.

I`ve been meaning to write about breastfeeding for a long time, but didn`t feel like I was quite ready yet. And even though I`m doing it now, I`m not feeling very confident. My breastfeeding journey has not yet ended and I might not be the most entitled to give you advice on the matter. But, you know what, being a parent, especially a mother (I`m not being gender biased, misogyny is very present in a mother`s life), means your confidence is constantly being undermined by judgement, peer pressure (let`s say) and the daily struggles of raising a child. So let me use this very vulnerable moment to share an insider`s view on the matter. I hope you don`t mind my honesty.


“Breastfeeding is easy”

I had never given much thought on breastfeeding before. I worked with children since I was 14 and took care of some very young babies. I saw their mothers breastfeed and it seemed to me like the most natural thing to do. In Brazil, when mothers couldn`t breastfeed themselves, I`d heard of breastmilk donations, I had never really heard much about bottle feeding. I only realized mothers chose to bottle-feed when I came to the UK (I was already pregnant then).

That idea puzzled me. How can that light-yellowish powder be better than our own breast milk? I read about it and I realized it wasn’t better, in fact it was much worse. There were a number of risks involved, here are some examples:

  • “For infants, not being breastfed is associated with an increased incidence of infectious morbidity, including otitis media, gastroenteritis, and pneumonia, as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Among premature infants, not receiving breast milk is associated with an increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
  • For mothers, failure to breastfeed is associated with an increased incidence of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome.” (Stuebe, 2009)

Why would anyone want these risks? I was determined to breastfeed my baby for at least two years or until he decided to stop.

When my son was born I started the breastfeeding quest. I had no idea it was going to be so hard. To make myself clear: it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. More difficult than moving countries, than being pregnant, than getting divorced, than going through uni, than being a teenager… I could go on, but I think you get the point.

For starters, I had sore nipples. The term “sore nipples” is an understatement. They were cracked, bleeding, swollen, bruised, scabs would form and get ripped off the next feed. The pain was hard to bear. I didn’t know what was happening. No one had ever told me this was a thing. When people talked about sore nipples I imaged the pain you feel after you go to the gym for the first time in ages, or something like that. I never thought I would cry at every feed, that I would fear the next feed and that I would be repeating in my head, halfway through them: “please stop soon”.

I also wasn’t aware that babies can feed very often for a very long time and it’s absolutely normal. My son fed for about 1 hour and half every feed, and needed a feed every two hours or so (except during the night when he would wake up only once for a feed). So for the first week of my son’s life I was breastfeeding during a big part of my waking hours and in excruciating pain. I was close to breaking point.

Tired, confused and about to have a nervous breakdown – ok, I did have a few meltdowns, but I didn’t go insane – I thought there was something wrong with me. Was my milk not good or strong enough? Is that why my son was feeding so much so often? Was he starving? My (then) husband and his family supported my fears. “Try giving him a bottle”, they said, “Breastfeeding is not for everyone, you know”. So I did it, I gave him a bottle, and I cried every second of it.

I was devastated. I had failed my son. My body was defective and couldn’t offer my son what was best for him. That’s how I felt, and I cried most of that night, too.

Still, I wasn’t ready to give up. The break from the feeds had given my nipple some extra time to heal and I’d had enough rest to feel a bit more energetic in the morning. A friend of mine from primary school, Ana Marta Santos, had earlier congratulated me on my pregnancy and said that if I needed anything, especially while breastfeeding, that she would be glad to help. I didn’t understand at the time but I was now willing to take on that offer. Too many miles apart, I called her on Facebook and begged for help.

Ana Marta had gone through the same. She told me it took her 7 days for the new, stronger skin to substitute the cracked one and for the nipple to stop hurting. “The best thing”, she said, “is to let the nipple breath”. So I kept my breasts exposed as long as I could to let the wounds dry. When I had to walk around the house I’d only wear a light, thin shirt; no bra. Though milk would drip now and then, it was working wonders. The drier the scabs, the less it hurt. Ana Marta also taught me a mantra: “It shall pass. One day after the other”. I tried to remind myself of that every day, to take one day at the time as a little victory and remember that what I was going through would not last forever. Things would get better. Things would get easier.

My mother-in-law had kindly bought me lanoline cream, but it kept the wounds moist, so they took longer to heal. Ana Marta also warned me about these creams so I stopped using them.

Just as it happened to my friend, on the 7th day the pain was nearly all gone. It wasn’t gradual, on that day the pain just reduced by about 80%. It was magical. It’s hard to describe the relief I felt. By the 10th day the pain was fully gone. I felt revigorated. I was exclusively breastfeeding on demand and I was nailing it. Check-me-out!

This experience can be quite challenging and confusing. Another friend of mine, Gisela Bataller, who went through a similar situation with her second daughter, told me how she had mixed feelings about breastfeeding. She really wanted to breastfeed and it made her feel warm and loving, watching her daughter so content at the breast; but the pain made her hate feed times. I knew that feeling all too well, and I began to understand why many mothers give up breastfeeding.



Basically, when you breastfeed, your body is using loads of energy to produce this milk that is tailored for your baby. This process interferes with pretty much EVERYTHING in your body. At first, you lose all that weight you might have gained when you were pregnant. Great! Your body needs loads of energy to make the milk and it will take energy and nutrients from wherever it can to make the perfect milk. So if you don’t take care of yourself, don’t worry about your baby, his milk will be just as good, but you will keep losing weight and might get some health problems along the way. So, EAT! It’s common to crave sugars, but I recommend going for starchy foods as these complex sugars last longer and are more useful. Potatoes, pasta, bread, rice, grains, etc are all great choices, especially whole. If you feel hungry often, eat often, but avoid junk and industrialized food as they might not give you enough nutrition; and bring about some undesirable side effects.

Nevertheless, I was breastfeeding for long hours, with short breaks during which my son might fall asleep in my arms and it was hard to put him down to go get some food, even worse to make some. I didn’t have much help at home, my husband had to work all day and I would be at the house by myself. I was new in the country, so didn’t have any friends, and my family was miles away in Brazil. I relied mostly on sandwiches and microwave meals, which isn’t ideal but got me going. I still felt hungry a lot of the time and that made me impatient and tired. Ana Marta told me how she survived the first weeks after birth eating mostly white bread and cream-cheese.

The reason (probably… well, at least it’s one of them) why I didn’t lose my mind during this period, and continued to love my son more than anything else in the world even though he was causing me deep pain, is because I was stoned.

Most of us are aware of oxytocin. Known as the “love hormone”, this chemical is released in the mother’s brain when she breastfeeds. It works as an antidepressant and has a number of benefits in the body. But the chemistry of breastfeeding is ever more complex than that. Usually, if the regular amount of one chemical is altered, than the whole system adapts to the change. When we breastfeed, there is a lot going on in our bodies and brains.

After giving birth, a mother’s brain is flooded with endocannabinoids such as anandamide (Burgierman, 2011), which is analogous to Marijuana’s cannabinoid, THC. The chemical might play a role on pain management, and to help the mother feel calm and loving after such a traumatic event such as childbirth. Anandamide and 2-AG are also present in breastmilk and play an important role in child development (I’ll comment below). I suspect breastfeeding also increases the release of endocannabinoids in the mother’s body.

In the first weeks of breastfeeding, I felt quite different. Even though I was suffering a great deal, I felt mostly calm and warm. During one feed, I wrote down what I was feeling during 45 minutes, because I was fascinated:

  • I had a light headache, like a pressure inside my cranium. Just like when you overdue weed, I felt more aware of that pain. I also felt more aware of the my episiotomy’s stitches and the pain from it.
  • My senses began to change and started to give more attention to things I wouldn’t normally notice, like the warmth of my son, the softness of the sheets, the feeling of a slight breeze when someone opened the door.
  • Munchies!
  • My nipples then started hurting less, except for eventual short spikes of pain.
  • After half an hour, I still feel high and slightly dizzy.
  • Heating sensation in different parts of my body, especially tempers and back of my head.
  • No pain.
  • Body felt very heavy and I had no intention to move.
  • Emotional and high, I had a constant little smile on my face.
  • I felt very relaxed and sleepy.

It felt pretty much like smoking weed. After two weeks, these effects were no longer there during feeds. That’s because when you have too much of these endocannabinoids floating around, your body decreases the number of their receptors and you create resistance to their effects. You know how people who smoke cannabis everyday don’t get as high from it anymore and need to increase the dosage? Same idea.

The same does not happen with oxytocin, breastfeeding increases not only the release of this hormone but also its receptor. The more you breastfeed the more you feel the love.

“When a mother nurses, not only do her blood oxytocin levels increase, but her body makes more receptors, permanently increasing her feelings of love – and her ability to feel loved. Mom’s sensitivity to oxytocin’s power is one of the most fundamental ways she changes as a new mother” (Alpha Parent)

By insisting in the tough beginning of my breastfeeding journey, I let my body find a balance and adapt to the new chemistry needed for me to carry on. Once that was done, I felt much more confident and comfortable with my breastfeeding. And I loved it!


Getting help and support

Let’s get something straight: most health professionals are not prepared to deal with breastfeeding mothers. Though I received some great advice along the way, I also receive conflicting advice and warnings. At the hospital, nurses were very helpful showing how to breastfeed. Health visitors were at times helpful, at others scary. I co-slept with my son from the beginning. It makes things easier when you breastfeed because you don’t need to get up when the baby wakes up. I’d just turn around, lift my shirt and go back to sleep. I noticed I would wake up at the same time my son did, and that my sleep was a lot lighter than it used to be; so if anything went wrong I would be up and alert.

A health visitor frowned when I mentioned it, stating the dangers of bed sharing. I felt like I was doing something very wrong and dangerous, but my instincts were telling me the opposite. I tried to make my son sleep in his Moses basket, but he didn’t want to. I kept receiving the message that I had to try and force him to sleep on his own. I was too tired to keep insisting and I didn’t want my son to cry all night, so I gave up, but still felt like a criminal.

At a breastfeeding support group, another health visitor then said co-sleeping was actually a good idea. I felt much better after that. I later realised there are many benefits in co-sleeping and I wish I knew this earlier. It would have saved me a lot of hassle and anxiety.

Gisela, however, had a harder time than I did. Click here to read her story.


Shaming and judging

Once I was comfortably breastfeeding my son at the reception of Jobcentre Plus, waiting for my sister to sort out her national insurance number, when a female member of staff came to me and said: “Why don’t you breastfeed in the baby change, for your own privacy?”. She didn’t wait for me to answer, she unlocked the door next to me and kept doing hand gestures for me to get in there and repeating louder and slower: “It’s for your own privacy”. She’d heard me speak to my sister and she knew I was a foreigner; I’m not sure if she thought my English was bad or if I was stupid. Not given a chance to answer, I looked around for a friendly face to give me courage, but all I found were other members of staff, laughing at the situation, as if I was such a weirdo for doing such a thing in public. I felt so small. My eyes filled with tears as I walked in that tiny, smelly room and sat at the most uncomfortable wooden chair to resume the feed.

Later, when I mentioned what happened on a Facebook group, other mums kept saying I shouldn’t have gone in, I should have said something. It was the only time something like that happened to me and I froze. I didn’t know then what they were doing was illegal; I wasn’t confident I was following the country’s social behaviour correctly; I just never thought this would happen to me and I was unprepared.

When I first came to the UK I was told Muslims might have a problem with breastfeeding in public and that I should watch out for them. They never even looked at me. I’ve only been judged by white Europeans (that’s just my experience, you might have a different one and I acknowledge that). I heard things like: “Oh, but you are going to stop breastfeeding when he’s 18 months old right? It’s just ridiculous after that, they don’t need it”; “You shouldn’t breastfeed after he starts walking, it’s weird”; “Why don’t you give him a bottle when you are out?”; “This is a very private moment, are you sure you want to do it in a busy place like this?”.

To be fair, I also received several kind smiles and compliments from other women passing by while I breastfed. These little gestures remind you you’re not doing anything wrong at all.

My mum told me when me and my siblings had turned one she was embarrassed to breastfeed us. I can see why a lot of women feel this way, maybe even earlier, and give up breastfeeding. I have heard stories of breastfeeding mothers that heard awful comments in restaurants; that weren’t allowed to do it in a relative’s house; that are suing businesses for discriminating against them.

It doesn’t mean that bottle-feeding mums don’t get discriminated. Nasty looks and comments from breastfeeding mums may happen at any time. Shaming online is getting increasingly common, too. In some of this online groups, breastfeeding mums talk about bottle-feeding as if it was child abuse. I might not understand mothers who dismiss even trying to breastfeed with a comment like: “It’s not for me”; but I’d rather not judge. I don’t know what’s behind that decision and it’s too easy to point a finger when you’ve had a different reality.



Leakages, constant thirst and hunger, muscle aches from breastfeeding in the same position for a while are some of the regular inconveniences. When babies are teething they commonly bite, too. I won’t lie to you, it hurts. I get very tense sometimes, leaving a finger next to his mouth, ready to get him out of the breast if he starts biting. This phases come and go, it’s not a constant thing. Most of the time you don’t have to worry about them.

But by far, the worst “inconvenience” I had was mastitis. The first one (I had about six of them, I think… I lost count!) was the worst. A mastitis is when a milk duct gets blocked. It’s painful, but massaging it in the shower, breastfeeding more with that breast and expressing usually solves the problem. In my first one, however, it turned into an abscess – it got infected.

I wasn’t feeling too well, it felt like the beginning of a cold. Then my breast started hurting and I felt a lump, so I called my GP. She told me she would see me that day, so I got ready to go; put my son on his pushchair and stopped by a café to eat something on the way to the surgery. I then started to feel very sick and couldn’t eat my food. Pushing the pram became very hard because of the pain. The lump was getting bigger and I could feel it burn. By the time I got to the GP’s office, I was shaking, with a temperature of over 39,5C. I was prescribed antibiotics, which take two days to kick in, so I was very ill for those two days. I kept getting mastitis, but none as bad as the first.

Something that majorly still affects my life is the fact my son won’t go to bed without a feed. We tried to have someone else put him in bed but he will just cry endlessly and I don’t want him to sleep from exhaustion after crying for hours. That means we still co-sleep. His cot bed is next to my bed and he rolls there next to a feed or just falls asleep in my bed. It also means I can’t go out at night, because even after he falls asleep he might wake up, and if I’m not there to nurse him back to sleep he won’t go back to sleep.

When he started crawling he would wake up in the middle of the night and start crawling, even crawl in his sleep sometimes. He crawled out of bed twice, waking up after hitting the floor. I freaked out. The only solution I could think of was sleep training him so he would sleep safely in his cot. All these cry-it-out methods made me feel physically ill with anxiety. I just couldn’t let my baby cry.

Then I went to the UK Breastfeeding and Parenting Support group on Facebook and asked for advice. One of the suggestions was that I get rid of the bed and put my mattress on the floor, so even if he fell off the bed, my son wouldn’t get hurt. It sounded extreme to me, and to my friends and family. My Brazilian mindset was seeing this as being a weak mother who will spoil her child. But then I realised letting my son cry himself to sleep was way more extreme. Why were bed legs so important to me anyway?

I dismantled the bed and put the base on the floor with my mattress, next to his cot bed with an open side, and kept on breastfeeding my son to sleep. That is still how we sleep today, over a year later.


Worth it

Breastfeeding is extremely hard – I think I mentioned it before – but it’s worth it. Besides all the know health benefits of it, there are also the things that are hard to measure, such as the irreversible new brain connections that you and your baby will benefit from. All that chemistry that goes on in your brain also goes on in your baby’s brain and it helps him develop into an intelligent, loving child, who feels safe and connected. This may sound intangible but it’s extremely important. These early moments of a child’s life have a central role in determining what kind of adult they will become. By making sure they have all the oxytocin and oxytocin receptors they can have, helping them regulate their brain chemistry and neuronal connections, we are not only assuring them a healthier life, but one filled with love and warmth.

What we need to fight against is not bottle-feeding mothers, or whoever thinks differently, but disinformation and shaming. What we need to fight for is: professionals that are more prepared to support parents; clear, honest information for everyone and, above all else, empathy. That’s what I believe in, and that’s why I shared my story.

I’m still breastfeeding (only during the night, as per my son’s preference); my son is 22 months old. I still get mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I just want to stop. But then I lie down to feed him and watch him as he strokes my belly – I supposed that’s his way of saying “thank you for the milk” – and I’m taken by a happiness I just can’t explain. I’m sure when I do stop, I’ll miss it.

Hi, I`m an immigrant

Hey there, my name is Susan, and a lot of people hate me. They are very concerned with my impact on their country`s economy, and that I might be abusing the system. They believe I should be sent back to my country of origin and only come back if I have the skills they need. I`m an immigrant on benefits in the UK.

Let me clarify something, though: I do work. I just don’t make enough money to support my family, and I’m a single mother, so I get help from the government. I’m very grateful I am having the opportunity to live in a house that’s big enough for me and my family, that I don’t struggle to buy food, that my son can go to childcare while I work, that I get to spend time with him, too. I didn’t want to be in a situation where I need benefits and I’m working my way out of it so I won’t need help in the future. However, being in this situation was out of my control, so I’m glad I had this option. Others aren’t so happy about it.

According to a 2013 survey, more than half the British population believes that the cost of having immigrants outweighs the benefits. A lot of people are concerned about the “benefit tourists” and immigration is perceived as one of the most important issues the UK faces. This is one of the main reasons Brexit is happening, so this perception is causing major changes in the UK policy and may have a huge impact in its economy and politics.

Don’t get me wrong, I have never been mistreated and nobody has ever been rude to me or told me I should leave. In fact, when I catch people making negative comments on immigration and I remind them I’m an immigrant myself, I often hear: “But I don’t see you as an immigrant”, or “You’re not the problem”. The problematic immigrant is not usually the one close to you, it’s this distant image of an ill-intentioned, strange looking guy, speaking another language and taking advantage of anything he can. I don’t look like that guy. Personally, I don’t know anyone who looks like that guy. Most people don’t.

The Migration Observatory points out that “In something of a paradox, while vast majorities view migration as harmful to Britain, few claim that their own neighbourhood is having problems due to migrants”. Surveys show that a minority of the British population think the nearby migrants are the problem. In fact, the most contact people have with immigrants, the more positive is their view of them. It might seem a lot when we say that, in 2013, more than half of Britain believed there were too many immigrants in the country; but in 1970, about 90% of people had this view. The number of people who have this negative view of immigrants have been steadily decreasing since then, as the presence of foreigners increases.

There has been a spark in migrations to the UK since 2013, with a rapid increase of people arriving from a variety of countries. How did that affect the public impressions of foreigners? Positively! Though most people still believe immigrants have a negative impact on the economy and cultural life in Britain, this is slowly changing:

Similarly, in the US, the voters who most supported Trump, who based his campaign largely on the “immigration problem”, were the least likely to have contact with immigrants: the people living in small towns. Most of the big cities and areas with a multicultural environment, had less people vote for Trump, according to the exit polls (red is votes for Trump and blue is votes for Hillary):

It seems that, getting to know immigrants may actually change your view of them (really!). When you get to know them, you might realise they are not very different from you at all. Maybe the reasons why they came to the UK are actually something you’d do, if you were in their position. The UK is actually one of the countries where most nationals emigrate, with 8% of its citizens living in another country.


Why do people come to the UK?

Most people come here to work. The second favourite reason is to study and the third is to join someone, like a spouse. Moving countries is not easy and I had different reasons to do so. I think nobody moves to a different place for one reason only. I had to make huge sacrifices to be able to move here and it wasn’t a decision taken lightly.

I was married to an Englishman and we lived in Brazil for 5 years. He started missing home and his family a lot, so we decided to make plans for a move to the UK. That was 2014, I was in my last year in University and didn’t want to rush out of the country. My graduation research was going to be published into a book and I wanted to take care of all that before I left.

A couple of things changed our plans completely, they happened sort of at the same time. Brazil was entering a political and economic crisis, a lot of companies downsized, including the one my husband worked for and he was one of the many employees who were laid off. I then discovered I was pregnant. We lost our health insurance and were both working as freelance teachers, so there were a lot of uncertainties in our minds. We decided it would be best to move to the UK earlier than we had planned.

It wasn’t easy. We saved money, sold furniture and electronics, our car, gave lots of stuff away. Because the currency suffered a huge drop with the political crisis, our money wasn’t much when we arrived in the UK. We weren’t entitled to benefits (it’s not as easy as you think) so my husband had to find a job quickly. I wasn’t there for my book launch, I couldn’t attend any of the events I was invited to lecture at, I made huge sacrifices in my career.

Why did I do all that? For my son. It was important to me that he would have access to healthcare, to a good education, that he would be safe and that I’d be around to raise him instead of working ten hours a day like I was doing in Brazil. The UK is an attractive destination for migrants because it offers these basic human rights to everyone. In most parts of the world, basic human rights are a luxury.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Brazil and I miss it a lot. I often think about going back. I miss the social life, the weather and the friendly, happy people. But then I remember the stress and my son doesn’t deserve it. No one deserves it, but most don’t have a choice.

What do I mean about stress? Well, I noticed how stressed I was when I travelled to California in February, 2014. The day I arrived, a friend picked me up from the airport and parked outside a restaurant to pick up a takeaway and told me to wait in the car. As I waited, I didn’t relax. I kept looking at the review mirrors looking for a person or a motorcycle approaching the car. I was afraid of being robbed or kidnapped; it took me a few minutes to realise I was being silly, it wasn’t going to happen there. I was in California for a few weeks and the feeling of being able to relax a little for the first time in years is hard to describe.

I used to drive to work in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil and there was a lot of traffic. While I was stuck in traffic, it was common to see a motorcyclist stop next to a car, take a gun out and ask the driver for money and valuables. There’s no escape, I was just sitting in my car wondering when it was going to be me. I would hide my bag under my seat and keep a fake wallet and phone near me, ready to give to the next criminal to approach me. It’s a risky move. If they realise you tricked them you might get shot. Luckily, though I’ve been physically attacked by muggers before, none of them had a gun. In fact, I was only held at gun point by police. What had I done wrong? Nothing. Where there’s a lot of violence and crime, the police tend to be more aggressive, too. It’s a snow ball.

Brazil has a high murder rate, worse than Iraq. A woman is raped in Brazil every 11 minutes. It has one of the worst wealth distribution. The government recently signed a decision to cut all investments in health and education for the next 20 years. I don’t want this for my son. If you are a parent, we probably have that in common.

Nowadays, I still sometimes hold my breath when I hear a motorcycle. When a stranger is walking towards me, I look at their hands, to see if they’re reaching for a gun or a knife. It’s only for a second, then I remember I’m not in Brazil and I relax. I can only begin to imagine what it’s like for a Syrian refugee when they have crossed the border and they hear an airplane. Imagine this: what does it feel like to feel panic, then realise it’s just a plane, not a Russian bomber? That’s an exercise we all need to do before we say no to refugees. Ask ourselves this kind of questions. What does it feel like when your one-year-old hears an airplane noise and says “bomb” before he’s even learned to say “dog”. What does it feel like for a ten-year-old refugee in Europe who doesn’t want to go to school because his school got bombed back in Syria and he saw his friends die?

I’m not saying all immigrants are good, all I’m saying is: get to know them. The odds are it’ll change your view on immigration.


But is immigration actually bad for the UK?

According to the Migrants and Citizens website, “there is no foundation for the claim that immigration is undermining the British welfare state. In fact, it looks like the opposite is true”. Almost 93% of benefits go to UK nationals:

The site further explains that:

“In fact, all the data points to the fact that the vast majority of EU migrants actually pay into the UK’s social security system without taking as much out. A 2009 UCL study, comparing net tax receipts with likely expenditure, suggested that Eastern European A8 migrants paid in 35% more than they were likely to receive in welfare services, while natives’ taxes were equivalent to only 80% of the money they received in benefits. These A8 migrants in the UK – are also 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing. Although different models of income and outgoings shifted the balance slightly in local citizens’ favour, the overall conclusion was clear: ‘A8 immigrants are unambiguously net fiscal contributors, while natives are unambiguously receiving more than they contribute’.These findings have since been confirmed by a follow-up study released late in 2014, which calculated that EU migrants who have arrived in Britain since 2000 have made a net fiscal contribution of £20bn (non-EU migrants’ net contribution over the same period was £5bn)”.

Basically, I’m the exception here. Most immigrants contribute more than they receive in the UK and I’m hoping to join them soon. Sending immigrants away may actually result in a cut on benefits and pensions for British citizens and less investment for the NHS, not the opposite.


My unrequested advice:

  • If you are British, get to know foreigners, learn more about their countries and the situation around the world.
  • If you are an immigrant, join groups that are working to inform and fighting for migrant’s rights in the UK. One Day Without Us and The 3 Million are examples.
  • When feeling discriminated, try talking sensibly about how you feel and avoid accusing others of wrongdoing (unless it’s clearly a case for the police), they might not have noticed they’ve done something. Do talk about it, though.
  • Empathy is underrated and should be exercised more often. Whether you are an immigrant or a UK national, try to imagine what it’s like to be in a different situation; try to understand the reason why people do the things they do.
  • Be sceptical of politicians who blame immigrants for the country’s problems, this is the oldest trick for manipulation. Make sure you fact check all of their claims.

Resposta a Luiz Felipe Pondé

Leia o texto de Pondé aqui.

A conta do sofrimento masculino com a emancipação feminina chegou, e ela se chama seleção natural. É isso, meu caro darwininsta, a evolução da espécie prossegue, quer você acompanhe, quer não. Quem não se adapta às mudanças do meio ambiente vai se perdendo na seleção natural. Mas, como Darwin defendeu – e talvez você tenha perdido essa parte do darwinismo ao perder seu tempo defendendo sua simplificação interpretada por Herbert Spencer – a sociabilidade é de suma importância para se obter vantagem evolutiva; formar conexões é tão importante quanto acasalar para a sobrevivência da espécie. Então, não se preocupe, nós feministas não o deixaremos para trás.

Vamos começar com alguns esclarecimentos. Em sua coluna, você pergunta: “O que será o homem do século 21?”. Ele continuará sendo homem, igualzinho antes. A gente só espera que ele seja mais empático, e isso serve para as mulheres também.

Tenho que discordar de que “à medida que se torna mais inteligente (…) mais ele ficará interessado em si mesmo”. Ao que tudo indica, quanto mais inteligentes, mais interesse temos nos outros. Isso não é um discurso feminista cheio de mimimi; estou falando de neurociência, psicologia social, teoria do apego. Vou explicar melhor.

No estudo do desenvolvimento infantil, sabe-se que as crianças mais bem apegadas – que possuem figuras de apego, como a mãe, pai ou outro adulto significativo – se tornam mais inteligentes (Sunderland, 2016) (Rifkin, 2009) (Mooney, 2010). Isso ocorre porque, ao se sentirem seguros, os bebês e as crianças estão livres para explorar e aprender; sem o stress da autopreservação, já que um adulto está cuidando disso para eles, há mais espaço para o cérebro se desenvolver (Zeedyk).

Em um experimento famoso desenvolvido por Harry Harlow, macaquinhos bebês tiveram as mães substituídas por uma mãe postiça. Metade deles recebeu uma mãe de pano, bem confortável, e a outra metade uma mãe de fios, menos agradável para se aconchegar. Ambas as mães davam leite, para que os macacos fossem nutridos adequadamente. Os macacos com as mães de pano sobreviveram com muito mais sucesso que os macacos com as mães de fios, mesmo quando o leite deixou de ser oferecido. O experimento demonstra a importância de o bebê se sentir seguro e conectado para sobreviver, algo que é semelhante em todos os mamíferos.

Quanto mais apego, mais carinho ela recebe, mais inteligente e resiliente se torna a criança, além disso, ela se torna mais empática. E a empatia é parte essencial na máquina evolutiva de nossa espécie. Sem ela, nos destruímos uns aos outros, sem nos preocupar com os sentimentos de nossas vítimas.

De fato, se a procriação fosse a principal chave da sobrevivência da espécie humana, como explicaríamos a homossexualidade? Fosse assim simples, os genes que determinam predisposição para a homossexualidade já teriam sido extintos na seleção natural, já que a procriação é rara em relacionamentos homo afetivos. A ativação dos “genes gays” ocorre como uma ferramenta de sobrevivência, de acordo com o Dr. James O’Keefe. Quando há um desequilíbrio de gêneros na população, nascem mais gays. Isso ocorre porque, como expliquei anteriormente, nós dependemos de afeto, de relações sociais e conexões para sobreviver. Quanto mais filhos homens uma mãe tem, maiores as chances de o próximo ser gay. O quinto filho homem tem 33% mais chances de ser gay que o primeiro.

Então, quando você diz que as meninas partirão “para a experimentação lésbica por puro desespero”, você está errado. As lésbicas serão lésbicas, as hétero serão hétero. E trans não é moda. Toda essa comunidade LGBT vem de uma ativação genética que a mãe natureza talhou com o maior cuidado para ajudar a nossa espécie. O mesmo gene que determina a homossexualidade também determina maior capacidade para inteligência emocional. O’Keefe explica que, as pessoas que tiram as notas mais altas nos testes de inteligência emocional têm mais de 50% de probabilidade de ser gay. É o gene da empatia.

A homofobia é, portanto, uma afronta à evolução. Isso também vale para o machismo, racismo e todos os tipos de discriminação que indicam um baixo nível de empatia, de consideração pelo bem-estar alheio. O feminismo luta a favor da evolução, das conexões, da empatia, do bem-estar coletivo. E, não se preocupe, nós temos parceiros, maridos, namorados, filhos. Não somos essa figura estereotipada que você pinta em seu artigo.

Agora, vamos combinar, ser darwinista e depois fazer, no mesmo texto, um comentário criacionista é meio contraditório. Também é contraditório dizer que homem é complexo e listar as fantasias sexuais mais cliché da caixa de prazeres. Talvez quem está precisando fazer experimentações sexuais é você, Pondé. Vai lá se descobrir, seja sozinho ou com uma mulher que confie e respeite, e tenta dar uma relaxada. A mudança acontece mesmo, não precisa entrar em pânico. Embarque na evolução que nós não queremos te deixar para trás. Nós só estamos pedindo respeito e igualdade para todos.

E é claro que vamos respeitar seus sentimentos, até mesmo seu temor pelo fim da espécie; mas preciso te lembrar, também, que o ocidente não é mercado de carne, e mulher não é filé para você ir lá catar uma que satisfaça o seu apetite. Até entendo você estar invejando os homens de sociedades menos igualitárias, mas tenho fé em você e a certeza de que você supera isso.

Também vale lembrar que doçura não quer dizer submissão. E submissão é a única característica que você não vai encontrar em mulheres feministas.

Gisela’s Breastfeeding Journey

Gisela breastfeeding Lilly

For a moment that looked like an eternity, Gisela was mute. The voice on the other side of the line didn`t seem to notice her heart racing and her chest turning cold. She was told her midwife had voiced concerns about her daughter and that she was to bring her 10-week-old to the hospital as soon as possible. A million things went through her mind between then and the time she arrived at the hospital at 7pm. Among them, the idea that she had done something wrong, that she was just being stubborn; maybe she should have listened to her family and given little Lilly a bottle. She seemed so healthy, so happy, though. What could be wrong with her except her weight gain not following the standard curves in her red book? Gisela was determined to figure that out as she headed to the hospital.

Hoping for the support and understanding of the staff, Gisela soon felt like she was battling against them. One of the first things she was told as she arrived at the children’s ward was that there wasn’t a bed for her and that she should leave her daughter overnight for observations.

Leave her daughter.

They might as well have asked her to leave her arm for a biopsy.

Because there was no bed for her. Did they expect her to go home and sleep after such amputation? They knew very well Lilly was exclusively breastfed. How could she be separated from her mother for more than a few hours? – Gisela asked herself. It all made no sense. Did they suspect Gisela was neglecting or not offering her daughter proper care? All these ideas came rushing back through Gisela’s mind as she kindly responded:

– Absolutely not!

Followed by a lot of “nos”. Her emphatic response did not stop, however, the doctors who came to check on Lilly to, again, ask Gisela to leave her daughter at the hospital and go home. She wasn’t so kind this time:

– VETE A LA MIERDA! – she’s not sure if her words came out, as her heart must have been blocking her throat.

By the way, I’ll let you Google translate that.

Though the doctors did not speak Spanish, they understood she wouldn’t leave her daughter’s side.

– I either stay with her or I’m taking her home – she said, feeling her blood boil gradually from her chest to the top of her head and tip of her toes.

Though normally patient, Gisela found it hard to sit still and listen to the doctors. Her surly response worked: they decided to run some blood tests and soon discharged Lilly by midnight, as there was nothing wrong with her. Relieved, though slightly traumatized, Gisela took her baby home and resumed her breastfeeding journey. It hadn’t been easy from the start.


It all started with her first son, Chris. He’d been born in Spain, by emergency C-section. Though Gisela had always wanted to breastfeed, she soon realised it was harder than she could have imagined.

She had little support. Though nurses assisted her in the first week, as Gisela was in hospital fighting an infection in her scar, she was on her own when she went home. Her partner (British) had to go back to the UK for work and her mother had never breastfed. Chris was losing weight and Gisela’s nipples hurt intensively, to the point she was scared of the baby being brought to her.

She found herself in a really dark place. She loved her son as she had never loved anything before, but she didn’t enjoy nursing him. Chris seemed to always want the breast, it was like he was never satisfied. Tired and in pain, Gisela thought she didn’t want to be with her baby.

Her mother had had enough of it. She went out, bought some formula and gave Chris a bottle. He drank it eagerly, as if he was being fed for the first time. Gisela was told her milk was probably too weak, not enough for her baby. She asked her doctor for a pill to stop her milk supply, and that was the end of her terrible breastfeeding experience.

Her situation only deteriorated after that. Gisela felt like a failure and sunk deep into a postnatal depression. She needed therapy and medication. It took her years to recover.

Six years later – she lived in Blackpool at the time – when she found out she was pregnant again, she was determined to make breastfeeding work. Realizing she might have been able to do it the first time if she’d had appropriate support, Gisela started gathering as much information as she could and preparing in advance. She took prenatal courses, got in touch with as many breastfeeding mothers as she could, joined all the support groups online and took note of all the support meetings in her area. She bought breast pumps and bottles in case she needed them and got herself a Star Buddy.

When Lilly came – also through a C-section, but a lot less problematic than the first – Gisela managed to help her latch on to the breast and things started so smoothly she couldn’t be happier. Her Star Buddy came to the hospital to meet her and introduce her to their system. Gisela was given a contact number to call whenever she needed. The nurses were helpful and always checked to see if breastfeeding was going well. “At first it seemed easy”, says Gisela, “but it wasn’t”.

Just like Chris, Lilly was on the breast all day. Yet, when they went home and the midwife came to check on her, Lilly had lost quite a lot of weight. Gisela was told to keep breastfeeding as usual. Every two days someone would come and check on Lilly. Everything seemed normal, except she was still losing weight. She had been born with more than 4 kg, so she wasn’t tiny, but there was a concern her weight loss wasn’t normal.

To add to the stress, Gisela had sore nipples. “I started to panic, it was Chris all over again”. She bought herself some lanolin cream and carried on; she wasn’t ready to give up. Her Star Buddy visited several times and helped her with the breastfeeding position, giving her plenty of advice on how to handle the situation. A breastfeeding consultant online suggested Gisela took Lilly to the hospital to check for tongue or lip tie, but that wasn’t the case. While in the hospital, “we got assisted during a full feed and I was corrected in how to position her and feed her”, explains Gisela. The pain persisted. Her nipples looked very wounded and would often bleed.

Gisela then found La Leche League. A local member, who was also Spanish, contacted Gisela. “She came in a couple of times”, says Gisela, “again I was given advice and help. And company, which was something I needed the most”.

The pain lasted almost three weeks and then ceased. Gisela was proud of herself for persevering and felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Without the pain, she felt she could overcome any challenges ahead. But Lilly’s weight kept going down until she had lost 11% of her initial weight.

During all this time, Gisela’s family were very concerned and kept telling her to give up and give Lilly some formula. Bombarded with guilt, Gisela found refuge online, talking to other mothers who had gone through the same. She would write all of her concerns down on Facebook support groups and get lots of support. By venting and breastfeeding like there’s no tomorrow, Gisela managed to keep the depression away. “Lilly was my rock”, she explains, “I was always with her”.

By six weeks Lilly finally started gaining weight, but not as fast as she was expected by protocols. After the nightmare hospital visit, Lilly’s weight gain started improving. It was still not ideal, but the midwife and Star Buddy were pleased. “A gain is a gain”, they said. “It was taking long, but we were finally succeeding”, smiles Gisela. Every weight gain was a reason to celebrate.

When Gisela took Lilly to Spain to meet her family, she found out her mum had booked her an appointment with the family’s paediatrician. “I trusted him, so I didn’t mind”. The GP expressed his concerns about Lilly being so light and the slow weight gain. He recommended that she didn’t stop breastfeeding but offer her baby a top up with formula after every feed. Gisela’s mum was pleased with the solution found, but Gisela felt devastated: “I felt like a failure, but I had managed so much against all odds”. She carries on:

“I didn’t want to give her the bottle at first. I was scared she wouldn’t take the breast after. But I thought he wouldn’t lie to me and that at the end of the day her health was at risk and I was not going to chance it”.

She started giving Lilly a supplement of 60ml of formula after a normal feed, but only three times a day, not after every feed as she was told. To her relief, Lilly never stopped wanting her breast and her weight gain stabilized; but Gisela noticed a decreased in her milk supply, so she went on the Facebook group for advice. “I was quite attacked about it, and got told that my doctor was not good for the advice and all”. Some mothers shared they were doing the same thing as her, but others shared assumptions that Spanish doctors weren’t that good. It pushed Gisela away from support groups online.


Gisela has been breastfeeding for the last ten months and is very pleased with her daughter. Lilly is happy and healthy, eating all her solids and still enjoying her mother’s breast. In fact, when Gisela comes home from work, Lilly won’t let her do anything before picking her up and giving her a feed. To Gisela, breastfeeding was the hardest thing she has ever done, but it was definitely worth the struggle – it still is, as her breastfeeding journey has not yet ended.

Polarização e política do medo


polarizacao-azul-vermelhoHá duas salientes linhas de pensamento hoje no Brasil. Eu as chamarei de A e B, e descrevo as duas abaixo:


Linha de pensamento A

Há um plano de ação em processo, com a intensão de implantar o comunismo/socialismo totalitário no Brasil. Para alcançar esse objetivo, os orquestradores desse plano (muito representados por políticos de esquerda), pretendem trazer abaixo todos os valores cristãos, que são a principal barreira impedindo que esse desejo se concretize. Para tal, esse grupo esquerdista é capaz de qualquer coisa, até mesmo corromper crianças através do homossexualismo e a pedofilia. Esse plano se disfarça de uma coisa boa, se manifestando na forma de movimentos por direitos humanos, direitos LGBT, feministas, etc, ganhando assim muitos adeptos. Mal sabem eles que são “massa de manobra” para fins sinistros.


Linha de pensamento B

Há um plano de ação em processo, com a intenção de implantar uma nova ditadura no Brasil. Os orquestradores desse plano – representados por políticos de direita em parceria com grandes corporações – contam com o apoio de muitos religiosos, que são facilmente manipulados por pastores (especialmente da igreja evangélica). As pessoas que apoiam esse plano, religiosos ou não, costumam ser racistas, homofóbicas, preconceituosas em geral. Eles acreditam numa forma moderna, mais disfarçada, de escravatura através do trabalho; pois a maioria deles são pessoas com dinheiro, e carregam um grande rancor do pobre.


Se você achou a primeira linha de pensamento absurda, é bem provável que a segunda lhe soe plausível. Se o pensamento A faz sentido para você, você deve ter achado o pensamento B completamente insano. Isso é a polarização.

Qual das duas linhas de pensamento está correta? Nenhuma. O motivo pela qual uma delas provavelmente soa plausível para você (e para mim, eu não estou imune a esses processos) pode ser explicado pela heurística.




Segundo a Wikipédia, heurística “é um método ou processo criado com o objetivo de encontrar soluções para um problema. É um procedimento simplificador (embora não simplista) que, em face de questões difíceis, envolve a substituição destas por outras de resolução mais fácil a fim de encontrar respostas viáveis, ainda que imperfeitas. Tal procedimento pode ser tanto uma técnica deliberada de resolução de problemas, como uma operação de comportamento automática, intuitiva e inconsciente”.

626381112Nós fazemos isso o tempo todo. O cérebro humano desenvolveu técnicas de solução rápida de problemas, que podem ser muito úteis, mas que muitas vezes causam falhas de julgamento. O exemplo mais clássico é o da heurística da disponibilidade, na qual um julgamento é feito baseado no primeiro pensamento que vem à mente.

O Dr. Jerome Groopman (apud Skeptical’s Dictionary) exemplifica essa heurística com o caso de um médico que diagnosticou vários casos de pneumonia viral no decorrer de algumas semanas. Uma paciente então apresentou sintomas similares, mas não apresentou as características manchas brancas no raio-x do pulmão, típicas de pneumonia viral. O médico a diagnosticou como estando nos estágios iniciais de pneumonia. Ele estava errado. Outro médico apresentou o diagnóstico correto: envenenamento por aspirina. O julgamento do primeiro médico havia sido atrapalhado pela grande disponibilidade de casos com o mesmo diagnóstico.

Nós não compramos um bilhete de loteria pensando nas chances extremamente baixas de recebermos o prêmio, mas nos casos de vencedores que vemos nos jornais e nos comerciais. Essas imagens estão mais disponíveis do que os números concretos da probabilidade, levando muita gente a superestimar suas chances. Assim, também, sempre que os noticiários estampam o rosto de terroristas islâmicos na TV, aumentam os ataques a estrangeiros (principalmente árabes, mas muitas vezes também mexicanos e indianos) nas ruas dos Estados Unidos. As chances de ser morto por um americano branco, por um bebê ou por um cortador de gramas são muito maiores do que por um terrorista mulçumano, mas a heurística da disponibilidade faz com que as pessoas vejam o mulçumano como uma ameaça maior.

Evitar esses erros de julgamento dá trabalho. É preciso ponderar, buscar o máximo possível de informações sobre o assunto, analisar versões com pontos de vista diferentes, etc. O uso das mídias sociais também colabora para intensificar a ocorrência de heurísticas.

As pessoas recebem grandes quantidades de informações através da internet, o que as força a fazer julgamentos ainda mais rapidamente. Além disso, o sistema de mídias sociais como o Facebook, intensifica a disponibilidade cada vez mais radical de um ponto de vista. Quando você clica em um artigo que foi compartilhado por um colega, o Facebook recebe essa informação como uma indicação de interesse por determinado assunto. Baseando-se nessa informação, ele passa a disponibilizar mais links sobre esse assunto, autor, veículo, etc. Então digamos que você clique em um artigo de uma revista de ponto de vista predominantemente de direita. Mais artigos de direita vão aparecer e você vai clicando. Em um determinado momento, todos os links vão apresentar um ponto de vista mais de direita, te deixando sem a opção de visualizar um ponto de vista diferente.

É comum, também, participar de grupos online onde mais pessoas compartilham um ponto de vista. Stuart Sutherland, em “Irrationality” (1992), explica que, quanto mais se convive com pessoas de um mesmo ponto de vista, mais essas pessoas se radicalizam para aquela linha de pensamento. Pessoas com o mesmo ponto de vista, validam e encorajam esse pensamento, e a falta de contra-argumentos – por evitarmos pessoas que pensam diferente – faz com que crenças se intensifiquem cada vez mais. Nós agimos assim por gostarmos de sentir que estamos corretos e receber a aprovação do grupo; encaramos a discordância como uma afronta, uma ofensa.


O medo


Suzanne Zeedyk explica o sucesso de Hitler através do medo e, acima de tudo, a origem do medo. O cérebro em desenvolvimento possui um sistema FEAR (medo) que funciona como um músculo; quanto mais ele é ativado na infância, mais sensível ele fica. Crianças que sofreram abuso, por exemplo, costumam ter esse sistema muito sensível. É como um alarme automotivo que dispara toda vez que alguém encosta no carro. O menor dos estímulos pode desencadear um ataque de pânico, ansiedade, agressividade, ou qualquer que seja a reação. Isso pode perdurar até a vida adulta. A geração de Alemães que apoiou o nazismo de Hitler, viveram uma infância na qual o “conselho da moda” dado aos pais era de uma criação autoritária dos filhos. Na criação autoritária predomina a disciplina, alcançada através de punições (sejam físicas, castigos ou humilhações) e ameaças. Esse tipo de criação ativa o sistema FEAR do cérebro em desenvolvimento com muita frequência.

Na vida adulta, quando esse sistema continua sensível, há um medo irracional de ameaças externas. Para justificar esse sentimento, essas pessoas criam um inimigo, que pode ser, no caso da Alemanha nazista, os judeus, negros, etc… As pessoas se unem contra esses inimigos em comum, sentem-se parte importante de uma comunidade, sentem-se mais seguras. Onde há medo generalizado, há sempre uma pessoa (ou mais pessoas) disposta a usar isso para alcançar o poder. Hitler não teria sido tão bem-sucedido, e feito o estrago que fez, não fosse o apoio que recebeu das pessoas (lembrando que não foram todos os alemães que apoiaram Hitler; não é preciso que todos, ou mesmo a maioria, apoiem uma pessoa como ele para que ela seja bem-sucedida).

O mesmo acontece hoje em dia. Figuras totalitárias recebem apoio das massas por representarem um sentimento de segurança. Para uma pessoa com o sistema FEAR soando o alarme constantemente, é beneficial sacrificar sua liberdade em nome da segurança.


A polarização é um fenômeno que costuma preceder um momento histórico traumático, guerras civis ou guerras entre países, por exemplo. Em pleno 2016, ela tem acontecido no mundo todo, acelerada pela internet e viabilizada pelo medo. No Brasil, ela se manifesta na forma dos times A e B, que seguem os pensamentos A e B mencionados acima. Não é preciso que você concorde inteiramente com um deles, se identificar em parte é o suficiente para ser acatado por um grupo e se tornar inimigo do outro; aos poucos a sua afinidade com esses ideais deve se intensificar.

Enquanto o time A e o time B brigam entre si, o pequeno grupo de pessoas no poder lutam por elas mesmas; fazendo alianças com quem lhes for conveniente, apoiando o time que lhe for conveniente, promovendo e executando ações que lhes são convenientes, tudo em nome da manutenção do poder. Quando mais intensa a polarização, mais facilidade essas pessoas têm de permanecer e aumentar seu poder, se preocupando somente com as falcatruas e picuinhas entre eles mesmos.

Enquanto a população brigar entre si e enxergar uns aos outros como inimigos, continuaremos em declínio. Quando aceitarmos diferentes opiniões e o constante debate como parte fundamental para a manutenção da democracia, as coisas tendem a fluir. A população mais crítica, unida e reflexiva é mais forte para se defender contra a manipulação de oportunistas em busca de poder.


debate1O que fazer?

– Reflita sobre si mesmo, sobre o motivo para suas opiniões e pontos de vista; busque ser mais aberto a novas informações e mais flexível; tente reconhecer os momentos em que seu julgamento foi afetado por heurísticas.

– Se relacione e converse com pessoas que pensam diferente de você. Mesmo que você não concorde com elas, tente entender porque essas pessoas pensam assim e acima de tudo, respeite-as.

– Pratique a empatia com mais frequência; tente sentir o que o outro sente, se colocar em seu lugar e imaginar como é essa realidade. Procure não enxergar outras pessoas como “inimigos”, mas como pessoas que viveram outras e experiências e discordam de você. Tanto ela quanto você podem mudar de ideia um dia e acabar descobrindo que têm muito em comum.

– Debata com pessoas diferentes. A única forma de validar um ponto de vista é tentando provar que ele está errado. Escute argumentos conflitantes e reflita novamente sobre seus conceitos. Você pode manter a mesma opinião, adaptar seu ponto de vista ou mudar de ideia completamente.

– Procure saber mais sobre um assunto antes de expressar sua opinião na internet. Use fontes com pontos de vista opostos para elaborar sua opinião.

– Tente ver o mundo como um espaço para a colaboração e não para conflitos.


Observação: eu não me excluo dessa lista. Tenho tentado seguir esses passos (é um processo contínuo) e acabei descobrindo muitas coisas sobre mim mesma, meus preconceitos e vieses, e também tenho aprendido muito sobre pessoas com vidas completamente diferentes da minha. Ainda tenho muito a aprender, mas sinto que a minha vida se tornou muito mais fácil e positiva depois desse choque psicológico e por isso recomendo.

Sobre o mau comportamento

diego2No ano passado, o vídeo de um menino de sete anos – vamos chama-lo de Diego – na cidade costeira de Macaé, no Rio de Janeiro, se tornou viral. No vídeo, o menino vira cadeiras, mesas, joga objetos pela sala, faz uma bagunça danada. Os professores ficam a sua volta, parados, sem saber o que fazer. Uma funcionária, acredita-se que seja a diretora da escola, diz: “Eu quero saber com a orientação educacional, com a assistente social, com a polícia, o que a gente faz com uma criança dessas?”. O vídeo foi compartilhado quase 30 mil vezes, recebendo mais de 23 mil comentários, muitos dos quais são perturbadores.

First comment: "lack of a beating"; second comment: "thank god my parents beat me up as a kid so today I`m not a worthless criminal or a thief, always respected everyone including my parents". Third comment laments that, in Brazil, psychologists and human rights restrain people from providing "proper education" (?) imposing limits to children.

First comment says "beat him up"; the other suggests he`s taken to a prison so the police would "freak him out".

Ainda no vídeo, um dos funcionários (talvez a diretora) instrui os outros a não tocarem na criança e esperarem até que sua mãe chegue na escola. “A gente não pode bater nele, não pode segurar ele”. Não, não pode; mas também não deve (voltarei a falar sobre isso mais para frente). O garoto acabou indo parar no Fantástico, onde os especialistas entrevistados lamentam o fato de professores se sentirem presos e não poderem impor limites em crianças como ele.

O que mais me chateia – além da grotesca exposição dessa criança – é que isso mostra o quão despreparados, não apenas pessoas em geral (incluindo pais e responsáveis), estão educadores, psicólogos e outros profissionais ao lidar com uma criança de comportamento difícil. E isso não é exclusivo do Brasil. No Reino Unido, em 2012, “mais de 40% dos pais admitiram ter punido fisicamente ou batido em uma criança no decorrer de um ano (…) e cerca de 77% gritou com os filhos” (Sunderland, 2016, p.178).

Eu não os culpo. A maioria dos pais aprendeu que se deve “disciplinar” os filhos para que eles se comportem bem. Eu também já pensei da mesma forma, mas eu tenho aprendido muito desde que me tornei mãe e trabalhando com crianças – e eu gosto de compartilhar aquilo que aprendo, então vamos lá. A seguir, explicarei porque crianças se comportam mal e o que fazer a respeito.


Pequenos cérebros, grandes emoções

Os seres humanos nascem com o lobo frontal subdesenvolvido. Trata-se da parte do cérebro responsável pelo pensamento claro e intenções. Isso significa que não nascemos com a habilidade de controlar nossas emoções. Nós aprendemos isso através de nossas conexões com os adultos a nossa volta, como familiares, educadores, etc. Dessa forma, o mau comportamento costuma ser resultado de um cérebro imaturo.

frontal lobe

Em contraste com o lobo frontal, desde o nascimento, a parte inferior do cérebro humano está funcionando completamente. Essa região do cérebro

“contém sete forças hormonais enormes – os sistemas emocionais geneticamente arraigados. Há três sistemas de alarme – RAGE (frustração, irritação), FEAR (medo) e PANIC/GRIEF (pânico, perda, angústia da separação) – e três sistemas calmantes, de bem-estar e pro-sociais – CARE (afeto), SEEKING (procurando, desejo, antecipação) and PLAY (brincadeira, alegria, despreocupação) – e, finalmente, LUST (acasalamento). Esses sistemas são como músculos, quanto mais os ativamos, mais eles se tornam parte da personalidade”. (Sunderland, 2016, p.19)

Para uma criança, pequenas coisas como cansaço e fome podem ser motivo para uma crise de mau comportamento. Por causa do lobo frontal desenvolvido, adultos possuem a habilidade de compreender porque estão irritados e ir buscar algo para comer, descansar, caminhar ou qualquer coisa que os faça se sentir melhor. Crianças precisam de um adulto que as ajude a entender e lidar com seus sentimentos. O que parece pouco para um adulto, para uma criança pode ser super estressante.

Quando crises de mau comportamento não são lidados apropriadamente na infância, elas podem continuar ocorrendo na vida adulta. Se você trabalha com atendimento ao cliente, provavelmente já se deparou com um desses adultos.


Motivos para o mau comportamento de acordo com Sunderland:

– Fome ou cansaço;

– Alimentação (açúcar, adoçantes e certos aditivos nos alimentos podem afetar o comportamento da criança);

– Cérebro emocional ainda pouco desenvolvido (conforme explicado anteriormente);

– Cérebro pouco estimulado (enquanto adultos podem ligar o rádio ou algo do tipo, crianças podem tentar estimular a si mesmos causando uma situação com seu comportamento);

– Necessidade de reconhecimento (crianças que estejam buscando a atenção de adultos podem usar o comportamento como uma forma de consegui-la);

– Necessidade de estrutura (falta de estrutura, como uma rotina clara);

– Necessidade de ajuda com um grande sentimento (tensão devido a um evento em particular na vida da criança);

– Absorvendo o stress dos pais;

– Parte errada do cérebro da criança sendo constantemente ativada.

O último ponto merece atenção especial, pois nesse caso é preciso que os pais, responsáveis ou educadores mudem sua forma de se relacionar com a criança. Sunderland explica que

“Um dos principais motivos que levam crianças a se comportarem mal é devido à forma como os pais se relacionam à criança, ativando a parte errada do cérebro. Você terá mais dificuldades com os filhos se a criação estiver ativando os sistemas RAGE, FEAR ou PANIC/GRIEF do cérebro inferior. Você terá momentos mais agradáveis se ativar os sistemas CARE, PLAY ou SEEKING”.

Gritar, punir fisicamente e ameaçar a criança com frequência irá superestimular os sistemas RAGE, FEAR e PANIC/GRIEF, tornando a criança mais suscetível a crises de mau comportamento; e não o oposto, como a maioria das pessoas comentando no vídeo do Diego parecem acreditar.

“Da próxima vez que estiver prestes a dar bronca em uma criança (normalmente por causa de um comportamento que você não gostou), pergunte-se se há uma forma mais gentil de se expressar – por trás de todo comportamento há uma necessidade emocional, e não é a necessidade de levar bronca”. (Suzanne Zeedyk)

Há dois tipos de crises de comportamento, a crise aflitiva e a de Pequeno Nero. Ambas devem ser levadas a sério e tratadas apropriadamente, de maneiras diferentes.


Crise aflitiva

Use your developed frontal lobe to control your emotions and deal appropriately  with a challenging child.

Use o seu lobo frontal desenvolvido para julgar a situação e lidar com a crise da criança apropriadamente.

“Uma crise aflitiva indica que um ou mais dos sistemas de alarme foi fortemente ativado. Esses sistemas de alarme são RAGE, FEAR e PANIC/GRIEF. Isso resulta no estado de alerta da criança se desequilibrando, com níveis excessivos de componentes do stress fluindo pelo corpo e cérebro”. (Sunderland, 2016, p.184)

Esse tipo de crise pede uma aproximação do adulto, para acalmar a criança. Segurar a criança com carinho, oferecendo palavras calmantes, ajudará a fazê-la se sentir segura novamente. Então, assim que a criança estiver se sentindo mais calma, a melhor coisa a fazer é distraí-la – com uma canção, mostrando algo interessante, etc.

Castigos e punições, isolar a criança em um quarto, ignorar ou não dar atenção a essas crises de comportamento pode ser prejudicial, podendo levar a crises mais longas e mais frequentes.


Crises de Pequeno Nero

Essa é bem diferente da crise aflitiva e pede uma resposta diferente. O adulto, nesse caso, deve dar menos atenção à criança. Essa crise reflete o desejo de manipular o adulto – quando a criança quer um doce, por exemplo, e tenta convencer os pais a compra-lo gritando e não cooperando. Se a criança consegue o que quer, ela continuará tendo uma crise toda vez que ouvir “não”.

Não adianta tentar argumentar, negociar ou persuadir a criança durante a crise de Pequeno Nero, pois só estará dando a ela a atenção que ela está pedindo. Não grite com a criança, pois ela irá aprender que esse é um comportamento aceitável.

Normalmente, a criança que está tendo uma crise de Pequeno Nero vai parar ao ser ignorada; ou quando compreender que receberá atenção do adulto quando estiver calma e pedindo algo educadamente. Entretanto, algumas vezes, uma crise de Pequeno Nero pode escalar para uma crise aflitiva. É importante saber distingui-las para que sejam lidadas corretamente. Se a criança muda de um comportamento onde ela dá comandos ou exige algo incessantemente para um estado de dor genuína, a criança precisará de ajuda para lidar com seus sentimentos.

Suzanne Zeedyk nos lembra que “mesmo crises de Pequeno Nero refletem uma criança tendo dificuldades ao lidar com seus próprios desejos; então, carinho sem limites” é sempre a melhor abordagem.


No caso de Diego, ele não estava exigindo nada; ele silenciosamente destruía a sala dos professores. Eu diria se tratar de uma crise aflitiva. Ele estava tentando lidar com um sentimento muito forte e não sabia como, resultando no seu comportamento destrutivo.

Pessoalmente, essa é a minha forma de lidar com a situação – apesar de haver outras formas de lidar com ela: eu o levaria (sem machucá-lo de nenhuma maneira) para algum lugar, provavelmente do lado de fora, onde ele não pudesse causar muitos danos ou se machucar. Eu usaria frases calmantes, como: “Está tudo bem; ninguém está bravo com você; não se preocupe; vai ficar tudo bem”. Eu esperaria ele se acalmar e me sentaria ao lado dele, talvez colocando uma mão no seu ombro ou costas (se ele deixar) para oferecer conforto. Eu então conversaria com ele, para tentar descobrir o que causou a crise. Perguntas simples, como: “Como foi o seu dia?” , podem ser bem elucidativas. Talvez houve um desentendimento com um colega, talvez ele sofreu bullying, ou talvez algo esteja acontecendo na casa do garoto. Pode ser que ele não diga nada ou queira falar sobre outra coisa, ou brincar. O importante é que ele agora está mais calmo e pronto para retornar a sua rotina.

É importante lembrar que para lidar com crianças com frequentes crises de comportamento é preciso muita paciência. Crianças precisam de tempo para aprender a lidar com seus sentimentos ou pedir ajuda a um adulto. E que gritar, punir fisicamente, isolar ou humilhar a criança não são métodos eficientes. Diego foi filmado e exposto a milhares de pessoas, muitas das quais expressaram o desejo de puni-lo agressivamente e usaram palavras ofensivas para se referir a ele (trombadinha, marginal, futuro criminoso, diabo, etc). Isso é um abuso (coletivo) verbal e emocional de uma criança; sendo essa uma das principais causas para crianças e adultos se comportarem inadequadamente. Eu espero que Diego esteja bem, mas eu não me surpreenderia se depois disso tudo o seu comportamento não tenha melhorado. Eu espero que um adulto sensato e carinhoso o esteja ajudando a lidar com seus sentimentos.