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Trauma Informed Insights: Ian Wright & the Importance of Emotionally Available Adults

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

This week’s trauma informed insight focuses on the power of emotionally available adults to help young people recover from Adverse Childhood Experiences.

We look at the story of television and radio personality and former professional footballer, Ian Wright and the influence his teacher, Mr Pigden had on him and his life chances. From the video clip we can see the huge impact Mr Pigden had on Ian’s life.

Credit - BBC/Youtube -

‘The first real positive male role model I had in my life was Mr Pigden.

He changed my life by recognising that when I was stood outside that classroom, for being naughty, that I needed more and he gave it to me.

He would sit me down and talk to me. You know when I would get what he would call the heebie jeebies. I would get angry from being like this to full on rage. He would sit me down and talk to me and explain to me how to communicate. I was like a little Tarzan or something.

He took me out of the class. He literally taught me to read and write properly himself and then turned me into a monitor, so I would go round with the school register and would collect them up, I would be the milk monitor guy, I’d take messages to the teachers and then once he realised I could play football and everything.

He started to teach me to play football and how you have to pass to other people and why you have to pass to people, why you have to communicate nicely and why you have to give other people encouragement.

I realised how much of an effect that man had on my life and how important it is to have a positive male figure in your life.’

I wonder how Ian Wright's future would have played out if Mr Pigden had not intervened when he did.

Credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

Trauma occurs when children are exposed to events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope with what they have just experienced.

These can range from Big Traumas such as:

  • Child physical abuse

  • Child sexual abuse

  • Child emotional abuse

  • Emotional neglect

  • Physical neglect

  • Mentally ill person in the home

  • Drug addicted or alcoholic family member

  • Witnessing domestic violence

  • Loss of a parent to death or abandonment by parental divorce

  • Incarceration of family member

To smaller traumas such as:

  • Moving house

  • Birth of a new sibling

  • Failing at an exam

  • Friendship issues

  • Illness/injury

  • Loss

The key thing to remember is that all of us process trauma differently so what might have a significant impact on one person may not have such an impact on another.

As a young boy Ian unfortunately suffered from a number of ACEs such as physical abuse from his stepfather, an alcoholic family member, emotional neglect and parental separation.

Toxic Stress

When our body perceives that we are in danger it releases cortisol and adrenaline to keep us safe. These chemicals are great, for example, if we are crossing the road and we see a lorry flying towards us and they help us get out of the way. However, prolonged exposure can lead to physical illness, mental illness and early death.

Research completed by Brown, D.W. et al (2009) in their Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Premature Mortality study found that ACEs are a leading determinant of the most common forms of physical illness such as cancer, diabetes & heart attacks, mental illness such as depression and anxiety, and early death in the western world.

What about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences in schools?

As the number of ACEs increases so does the chances of the young person having; learning difficulties, weak attainment, low attendance, low engagement and/or violent behaviour.

Ian was starting to demonstrate the impact of ACEs with his behaviour in Primary School and that was when Mr Pigden started to intervene to change Ian’s life for the better.

Credit - Rex Features

A story of hope

It is not all doom and gloom though, as research shows that a range of protective factors before the age of 18 can help interrupt the cycle from childhood adversity to early death.

It is very difficult for teachers to provide the first 4 protective factors but we believe that teachers can absolutely provide the final 4 protective factors:

  • When I was a child there were people who helped me feel better when I was sad or worried.

  • When I felt bad I could almost always find someone I could trust to talk to.

  • There are people I can count on now.

  • Someone in my childhood believed in me.

One emotionally available adult can make all the difference for a young person who has suffered from trauma and that one person can often be found in schools.

Credit - Getty

For Ian Wright, Mr Pigden was that teacher. ‘He gave me some self-worth, he made me feel that I was important. He gave me a feeling that I had some use’

‘I don’t know why I didn’t tell Mr Pigden about what was going on at home but just having his encouragement really helped.’

Often, as teachers we do not know what is going on outside of school in our students’ lives but we do know that so many of our young people are currently struggling in school with their wellbeing, attendance, engagement, and behaviour in a post Covid education world.

Here at Future Action, we will continue to advocate for a trauma informed approach in our schools so that teachers can transform relationships to improve wellbeing, behaviour, engagement, attendance & progress in the short term and more importantly transform young people’s life chances in the long term.

(C) Nike

The good news is that as teachers we can become more emotionally available to our young people through greater awareness and staff training, and that not only benefits them greatly but also benefits our own wellbeing.

Trauma informed blogs

If you would like to catch up on our previous blogs on implementing trauma informed practice in Physical Education, they are here for you:

Over the coming months we will continue to develop trauma informed insights such as:

  • How we can widen a young person’s window of tolerance in Physical Education

  • How play can be a vital tool in improving mental wellbeing in Physical Education

  • How you can take trauma informed practice from your classroom to your wider school to have greater impact

We hope you found this week's blog insightful, we would love you to join our community of teachers committed to transforming the life chances of their children. Please make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to join us so you don’t miss the next edition.

Your Enhancing Engagement Scorecard:

We have created an enhancing engagement scorecard to help you track your progress in implementing Trauma Informed PE practice.

This scorecard acts as a valuable tool for self-reflection and continuous improvement. Click here to try our 2 minute scorecard.

We hope you got value from this blog. Get in touch if we can help you achieve your goals.

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