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Thursday, October 11, 2007On Motherhood
Cruella de Ville has nothing on childcare guru Claire Verity, according to parents. But generations of children were raised using the techniques she champions and they turned out ok, so what's the fuss?
It's rare that parents agree when it comes to the best way to raise children. Usually it's a debate which divides people with - and without - kids like nothing else.
But one woman is uniting parents across the UK in a way rarely seen before, according to some childcare organisations. Claire Verity's strict tough-love mantra appears to have provoked universal horror and disgust.
Claire Verity's been a nanny for 24 years
She is one of three experts used in the Channel 4 programme Bringing Up Baby. In it six couples with newborns are given a mentor who favours one of three childcare methods.
Ms Verity's tough approach includes leaving your baby outside "to air'', cuddling them for only 10 minutes a day and ignoring them if they cry.
Routine is everything and nothing must get in the way of it, especially not emotions.
Social commentators have branded her approach a "regime of rigidly timetabled neglect". Parents have jammed internet chatrooms to denounce her methods. There has been a flood of complaints to the television watchdog Ofcom and even the government.
It's not only parents that are rallying against her, other childcare experts have waded into too. The "queen of routine", Gina Ford, has sent a letter to the NSPCC protesting about Ms Verity's methods.
For Ms Ford to be "the voice of reason" will be seen by some as bizarre in itself. Her own strict approach to raising children is viewed as extreme by many and polarises opinion among parents.
Nannies and children
"When Gina Ford is the liberal voice in a debate you do begin to wonder what's going on," says childcare historian, Hugh Cunningham.
But some people must agree with her methods, she has been a freelance nanny for 24 years. She has reportedly worked for Mick Jagger and Sting and charges up to £1,000 a day. But trying to find her supporters is not easy.
"People like Gina Ford polarise opinion, it's a love-hate thing, but we've never seen a reaction like this," says Carrie Longton, co-founder of the parenting website Mumsnet.com.
"Almost everyone using our chatrooms is violently against her and they are reacting with such fervour. The odd person that does speak up for her just questions why people are getting so hysterical and isn't actually saying they agree with her."
Channel 4 has also come under fire for "sensationalising" Ms Verity's techniques to boost ratings. Some have questioned whether she even uses them herself. The channel insists no method is used in the show that Ms Verity would not use with her private clients.
'Fascistic mind frame'
But interestingly Ms Verity adheres to methods that were developed by a man who became a national hero in his native country of New Zealand, and whose legacy is still far-reaching in the country.
The child welfare reformer, Sir Frederick Truby King, developed his "scientific" childcare regime in the 1920s and became renowned worldwide.
"It was a time when people, largely men, started claiming the way to raise children was using science," says Mr Cunningham, a professor of social history at the University of Kent.
She's being attacked for promoting an outdated method of parenting but that implies that other so-called experts are legitimate
Professor Frank Furedi
"Before it had been about a mother's instinct, but these experts didn't want things like emotions to get in the way. Their approach was much like how you might raise a young animal."
The scientific approach, advocated by King and others such as JB Watson in the US, dominated childcare for decades. It only really started to be challenged after World War II, says Mr Cunningham.
"After the war people started to believe that using such an authoritarian way of raising children led to a fascistic mind frame. A wave of democracy spread through attitudes to childcare."
Read Full Text:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7037232.stm