Sunday, February 12, 2006

Penelope Leach in the news

This Sunday Times (UK) article discusses an upcoming book by respected child development expert Steve Biddulph. Biddulph has done the unimaginable: he changed his mind. Now he advocates that children under 3 years old don't belong in day care settings, but at home with their mothers.

This paragraph in particular caught my eye:
Last year Penelope Leach, an authority on childcare, issued a similar warning after finding that young children looked after by their mothers did better in development tests than those cared for in nurseries, by childminders or relatives.[emphasis added]

Penelope Leach! I've never met her, but I love her. She had tremendous influence on me through her book, Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age 5*, which I read obsessively when I was pregnant with DS1, and still have around here somewhere.

Leach taught me that the children are not some alien species, but younger humans, with the same feelings and thought processes as adults. Obviously their ability to reason and use logic and do complicated stuff takes years to develop, but the essential wiring, the feelings and the responses to stimuli, are all there pretty much at birth. If you yell at a kid, he'll feel all the same things you feel when you get yelled at, and he has a lot less experience in dealing with those kinds of feelings than you do. That's why yelling at kids is an ineffective way to do anything other than get their attention. Sure, go ahead, yell "Hey!" to get a kid to focus, but after that, dial it down a few notches.

Reading Leach, the one thing that manifests over and over is that children deserve respect. From Leach, I distilled this One Truth:
The only person I can control is myself.
Same goes for everyone else. We each have the power, and through our use of that power, we earn respect. Of course a lot of kids (and adults) don't or won't control themselves, and then they lose respect. But we can cut some slack for the kids who are still learning the ropes, while still giving them boundaries they need to help them figure things out.

Getting back to the issue of daycare versus at-home care for infants and toddlers: before I ever read Penelope Leach, I expected to keep up my software development career when my kids were born. I never expected to stay home with my kids; I didn't think we could afford to give up my high-paying job. I did give up that job, though, so I could move when DH got a great new job opportunity. Reading Leach, I realized that I was very lucky to have a telecommuting job so I could be home with my babies, and I know that it was the best thing for them. It worked out for me serendipitiously, but had it not, I think I would've had a hard time putting my kids in full-time daycare.

I admit I'm curious about these studies they're citing, how reliable they are, how big the data sets were, how they controlled for all the externals. It's a very tricky thing, this testing of very young children. Reflexively, I accept the results, because they confirm what common sense and my own experience would seem to dictate should be true. I have to push past that reflexive response, though, and be honest. Is this valid data? With both Biddulph and Leach behind these findings now, and with my long-standing trust for Leach, I'm willing to bet that it is. It's going to be interesting to see how this new information influences social policy in the UK, and to see how much of a ripple effect it has in other countries as well.

* I recommend Leach's book to everyone who is having their first child. It's essential. It's also a little confusing since its title is so similar to the American Academy of Pediatrician's book, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, but it's an entirely different take on the subject. Leach's book tells you how babies and children think, which is something that the pediatricians don't get into. The pediatrician's book is good, too, and gives a lot of details on topics like childhood illnesses, vaccinations, nutrition, and all those issues you're most likely to want to talk to a doctor about. Leach's book is more about living with your child day to day, and encouraging and appreciating his development.


Sheik Yerbootie said...

All children should be kept in a cage until 18, then sent to Marine Corps boot camp until hey become civilised.

nina said...

The finding, if true, should lead us to invest much much more in creating at-work quality day care centers. If parents could take time out to visit and be with their children in the course of the day, if day care jobs attracted better-paid professionals, these data would be different, I am certain.

I, too, expected to go full steam ahead when the kids were born. I could not do it. I could not disengage myself from them and so I slowed down, considerably. I was lucky -- we could (sort of) afford it. Most cannot.

On the subject of books -- an absolutely revolutionary book for me (for much the same reason that you liked Leach -- whom I also read and liked decades ago) was "Liberated Parents, Liberated Children." I seriously think it is the most important book I have read. Ever. It changed me as a parent completely.

Judy_Satin said...

Here's an anti-daycare with a point-of-view similar to Steve Biddulph...

Sonia said...

congrats! keep up the good work/this is a great presentation.

Kids Day Care

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