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Parenting guru Penelope Leach's new book 'Child Care Today' [US]

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O'Crowley, Peggy
Publication Date: 
3 Feb 2009

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EXCERPTS Over her 30 years of writing about child development, psychologist Penelope Leach has been an advocate of mothers staying home with babies during their early months to establish attachment, the intricate dance of intimacy that lays the foundation for a healthy human being. And while society has changed dramatically since 1978, when her first book, "Your Baby and Child," was published -- with mothers returning to work within weeks of a baby's birth -- the need for newborns to spend critical time with parents hasn't. That's what she says in her latest book, "Child Care Today: Getting It Right For Everyone" (Knopf, $25.95). "Recent brain research has found that what's the same is that the first few months of attachment to the mother and the father is tremendously important to everything that comes after. Good attachment gives you the basis for coping," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Lewes, England. She maintains it's up to governments to help parents -- including fathers, to whom she gives increasing influence -- find ways to ensure parents get paid leave to care for their newborns. That's a tough sell in the United States, one of the few industrialized nations in which juggling work and family has mostly been left to parents. In the last few years, individual states have passed laws that would provide some form of paid leave, usually limited to several weeks. But the current economic crisis means some states are holding off on implementing such policy. … Nonetheless, Leach is optimistic that the Obama administration, with a working mother, Michelle Obama, as first lady, will help promote issues such as paid leave and quality child care. Leach, now a 70-year-old grandmother of six, was a pioneer working mother, writing and researching while raising two children. Along with pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, she inherited the mantle from Benjamin Spock as a leading baby guru in the '70s, with her child-rearing books selling millions of copies worldwide. Leach comes up with some fresh ideas on the subject, including "mortgage holidays" written into mortgage agreements, in which homeowners with new babies pay only the interest on their monthly payments during the time one parent is at home, or banking overtime or comp hours to be used as paid leave after the birth of a child. But the title of Leach's book is about child care, and after that initial period of attachment, she has much to say about the kind of child care that's best for kids -- and how to implement it. Many of her conclusions are based on recent research, including a five-year Family, Children and Child Care study she conducted in the United Kingdom, and an ongoing study in the United States by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the largest study of children ever conducted. Good quality child care for toddlers and preschoolers is beneficial, Leach emphasizes, if they have good relationships with their parents first. … Being with other children allows them to socialize, but more importantly, figure out how to behave in groups: "How do you concentrate, take what you can be taught, with interruptions from other children," she says. Too often, however, she says, child care is designed for adults' convenience, not for the children themselves. One encouraging trend is the rise of the child care model called Reggio Emilia, after the Italian town in which it was first developed. That philosophy assumes that children are not empty vessels to be filled, but come with "extraordinary abilities as well as potential," she writes. "Children are not seen as passive recipients of education or care, but as active participants. The outcomes are not necessarily measurable, but are widely regarded as the strongest possible foundation for life." Just as with paid parental leave, Leach says, governments have to provide funding and support to provide optimal child care situations. In other countries, such as Italy and Germany, lack of government support is correlated to huge drops in birth rates. In countries such as the United States, there also is a price to pay -- in the way our children turn out, she warns. - reprinted from New&emdash;Jersey Online

Entered Date: 
4 Feb 2009
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