Now that my toddler is listening and picking up on every word he hears – particularly the bad ones – I’ve recently had to install a situation-sensitive filter between my brain and my mouth (ok, so not literally, but you get my drift). Aside from repeating every word he hears, he’s become completely open to the power of suggestion, which is making for some very interesting times.
Last week, for example, I thought I was being wonderfully imaginative in telling him that his spaghetti was a bowl of worms. It is the Halloween season, after all. Well that one backfired, when the back door was quickly opened and the ‘worms’ scattered in the garden.
The BBC came in for some criticism recently when it emerged that they had seen fit to change the words of Humpty Dumpty on one of its children’s programmes to give the accident-prone character a happy ending. That’s right, all the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men “made Humpty happy again”.
But a couple of hours with my toddler would make you appreciate why it’s not always preferable to have the original Egg Man lying beside the wall with a hole in his head, resembling a boiled egg with which someone got little over-enthusiastic belting the spoon off of. For one thing, it would rule boiled eggs out as a tea-time option in our house. And then there’s the distinct possibility that the wee man would try to inflict a similar wound on the next bald baby he came across.
After a couple of disastrous experiences, I decided to research how I could work with this ‘power of suggestion’ for a positive outcome – like if I keep telling him what a wonderful tidy little boy he is, he will eventually pick up his scattered clothes and toys of his own accord (I live in hope).
But the bit of reading I’ve done on the subject has taken me aback. For example, I’m sure many mothers would be amazed to know that the children’s medicine Calpol contains a little paracetamol but is generally seen as a sugar cure. Talk about a spoonful of sugar!
In adults, the concept is more widely known as the placebo effect, whereby medical treatments derive part of their effectiveness from the patients’ expectation that the drugs will make them better. And if you thought this whimsical notion was all the mind, think again. Scientists have shown that placebo surgery can be as effective as real surgery for conditions ranging from heart disease to arthritic knees. And many GPs observe that patients report feeling better only days after being prescribed antidepressants, even though the direct effects take several weeks to kick in.
Placebos aren’t limited to medicine — giving people decaffeinated coffee but telling them it has caffeine in it causes them to perk up and similarly alcohol placebos can cause intoxication. Some studies of placebo cures for animals show pets getting better, but it might just be owner’s anxiety that is being cured in this case.
But there is a lot to be said for the power of suggestion, which is why, this week, I’ve decide to promote the latest study which has found that eating chocolate (and drinking a glass of water – though I’m not too pushed on this one) can help relieve pain. The findings suggest that eating stimulated a system in the part of the brain that controls subconscious responses, which was known to blunt pain. Apparently the distraction acts as a natural way of beating pain, the researchers discovered and the pleasure involved is a natural painkiller.
I just hope it will numb the horror as I watch my two-year-old try to bake blackbirds in a pie.