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Raising Babies

11th April 2006

11042006_boy_lonely.jpgSteve Biddulph is the 53-year-old author of some of the world's most popular parenting books, four million sales to date. He is, in his quiet way, angry about the increasing use of day care for babies, says Joseph Farndale in the Telegraph.

He argues that placing children younger than three in nurseries risks damaging their mental health, leaving them aggressive, depressed, antisocial and unable to develop close relationships in later life. This is the subject of his new book, Raising Babies, Should Under 3s Go To Nursery?, published in March.

He directs his gentle wrath at the one in 20 British parents who "slam" their children into full-time nursery care, from 8am to 6pm, from the age of six months.

But isn't he just stating the obvious, Farndale asks? No mother uses day care as a first choice. In an ideal world, most would rather stay at home, for the baby's first year at least, but financial considerations force them back to work. Money certainly comes into it, Biddulph agrees. But the 'slammers', as he calls them, tend to be affluent, urban professional couples -so they do have a choice, argues Biddulph.

Biddulph concedes that what he is saying may seem obvious, but there is now 'hard science to back up the common sense'. One in five children put into nursery too early develops mental health problems.

A new study in the UK, which followed the lives of 3,000 children from babyhood, has shown that a baby's brain grows whole new structures in response to the love and caring firmness given during its first two years of life. If this kind of intense love is not given at the right time, these areas of the brain do not develop properly.

The National Institute of Child Health and Development in the US conducted a recent study of 1,000 children, which showed that three times as many children - 17 per cent - had noticeable behaviour problems in the 'more than 30 day care hours a week' group, while only six per cent had these problems in the 'under 10 hours a week' group.

Biddulph paints a grim picture of British nurseries; children are often looked after in bulk - on a 1:3 or 1:8 ratio, compared with 1:1 at home. The nursery staff, he adds, are often underpaid teenagers with minimal qualifications, with a turnover rate of 40 per cent a year.

Isn't all this utopian theorising of his just about making working mothers feel guilty, Farndale asks? "Mothers are adults and we infantilise them if we say we mustn't make them feel guilty. They are grown-ups who can think for themselves" counters Biddulph.

Some "slammers", says Bidulph, end up never bonding with their children. The danger for people who are only with their children half the time is that their children won't want to know them when they grow up, he concludes.

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