Raising Babies: Should under 3s go to nursery?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2006, 12:00am

Raising Babies: Should under 3s go to nursery?

Steve Biddulph

(Harper Thorsons, $128)

This is probably not a book most busy working parents will want to read. Even the author Steve Biddulph, a psychologist and parenting advocate for 30 years, acknowledges in his introduction that it's likely to anger some readers and unsettle others.

Why? Basically because it says what many parents don't want to hear. It says what they fear, but for economic reasons choose to ignore or let themselves be persuaded otherwise.

Which is that no child under three should be placed in the care of a day nursery and that only someone who really loves a child will give them the attention, stimulation and care they need to develop emotionally.

Biddulph is writing specifically about Britain, where day-care nurseries or child-minders are usually the only option for mothers who want or need to return to work. In the book, he argues his case by pooling the growing mountain of research against nursery care and the effect such care has on the development of the child in the first years of life.

He acknowledges that for many new mothers the question of returning to work is one of

the most difficult they face. He doesn't blame them - he blames the British government, which he says should be providing more support for mothers who want to remain at home in those first crucial years.

In Hong Kong, parents can consider them-selves lucky in that day-care nurseries where parents drop and pick up children like bags of laundry every day aren't the norm. We have domestic helpers, nannies, aunties or amahs.

However, this book is still unsettling. Yes, children here get more one-on-one attention, but, as Biddulph points out, that attention needs

to be loving - and, that's most likely to come from someone who truly loves them.

Babies and young children need lots of eye-contact, warm cuddles and loving touches.

There's also the danger of what he refers to as 'the Mary Poppins Syndrome': if the nanny or helper does her job well, your children may come to love her - even more than they do you.

So, what can parents do? This is where the book falls short. Biddulph's recommendations comes in just four brief pages at the end. OK, he never promised answers - just the truth - and if he gets parents to think twice about the kind of care their children are receiving, then he should receive credit. But for parents wrestling with this dilemma that's not much help.

Verdict: A thought-provoking, well-argued book.