Book review of ‘Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears’

In her latest book, ‘Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears: The connected baby guide to attachment’, dr. Suzanne Zeedyk shares the science of connection and universal importance of early life in a remarkably sober and humane voice. First published in Great Britain in 2013 and seeing the second edition in 2020, the 80 pages represent a concise and compassionate tour de force that literally everyone ought to get their hands on.

After working for nearly 20 years as a developmental psychologist at the University of Dundee in UK, dr. Zeedyk stepped away from her academic path in 2011 to share the importance of attachment, relationships, and love from the first moments of life with the larger public. Ever since, she has been collaborating with national and international partners towards raising awareness and engagement around the science of connection and has co-organized one of the biggest series of public events on the topic, in Scotland.

In familiar and playful language, the book describes human attachment – ‘the process through which relationships shape our biology’ by giving an overview of the evolutionary, neurobiological, and psychosocial perspectives at work that make attachment an absolutely vital component of every life. Through scientific evidence, Suzanne showcases that our interactions and relationships are literally crafting the anatomy and physiology of our brains from conception until death, and especially so in the first years of life. This crafting, on a platform of genetic background and environmental factors, will dictate how we develop and function using a fine-tuned balance of hormones and neurotransmitters (those little chemicals that keep our bodies and brains in balance). When the connection is not developed or lost and attachment becomes disturbed, when a child learns that the world is not a safe and warm space where emotional states are understood and responded to, this balance and the healthy development that comes with it are in danger.

The metaphor of a ‘sabre tooth tiger’ is brought forward to make the ‘childish’ and ‘unreasonable’ fear perceived by the baby when left alone more vivid and relatable to us, adults. When we understand that, way back in time, being abandoned meant being vulnerable and under threat of survival for a child, we begin to understand the meaning behind the crying for help and the importance of giving our baby a hug when we return after having left. At the same time, the notion of a ‘teddy bear’ is used to represent the concept of resilience, a feeling of internal comfort and safety that every child needs and deserves. When we understand that resilience only becomes embodied with enough repetition of happy, non-judgmental experiences in relationships with trusted others, we begin to understand that being there not only physically, but also emotionally, matters more than we could ever imagine.

Through the concept of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, professionals and scientists have begun to understand the unprecedented importance of early life experiences on later life. Communities around the world have started to share and apply the science around ACEs. When the lack or loss of connection mentioned earlier is left unattended for long enough, it can turn into trauma. When trauma is left unattended for long enough, it can turn into a lifelong series of health problems and risky behavioral patterns. Besides sharing this evidence, Suzanne witfully shares real stories of real people whose lives have been changed by these insights. These stories, from the personal change of parents and survivors, to the professional change of teachers, nursery owners, lawyers, and policemen, speak louder than any scientific article.

If there is one tip to take away from this book and use at all times, it would be that the laughter flowing from positive and secure relationships has the power to build resilience, or as Suzanne puts it: ‘Sabre Tooth tigers are scared off by the sound of giggling’!

Posted in Boek- en filmbesprekingen.