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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
The mother of all fights
Babies

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Cruella de Vil 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
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.

Celebrity clients

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
Truby King believed in fresh air for babies
"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, as 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 (Ms Verity) 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."

But Truby King's techniques were a major success in many ways and the Plunket Society, which he founded in New Zealand in 1907, is still deeply rooted in family life in the country.

'Insecurity and anxiety'

He is credited with drastically reducing infant mortality in New Zealand. Today, more than 90% of new babies in the country access Plunket Society services, it says.

A mark of his standing is the fact he was the first private citizen in New Zealand to be given a state funeral and the first to feature on one of its postage stamps.

Gina Ford
Gina Ford has criticised Claire Verity

However, the society does stress its philosophy of care underwent a "major shift" in the 1970s, and Truby King's strict regime was replaced by a more "flexible model of care".

Styling yourself on his original techniques is old-fashioned at best, argue parents. Ms Verity declined to comment for this story. But some commentators cast the net of criticism wider, jabbing a finger at the whole "expert-driven parenting industry".

"She's being attacked for promoting an outdated method of parenting but that implies other so-called experts are legitimate," says Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting.

"She is no better and no worse than all the other television nannies. I think this whole situation has reduced the paradigm of expert-driven parenting to an all-time low.

"It's symptomatic of an unprecedented level of parental insecurity and anxiety."

But ultimately, most parents object to Ms Verity's techniques because they "go against every gut reaction you have as a mother or father," says Ms Longton.

"Whatever Claire Verity says, parenting is about instinct," says Abigail Flanagan, of Mumsnet.com, "and mine would be to show her the door."


Add your comments using the form below.

Claire Verity made me more angry then I have been in years. I can only assume that the woman doesn't actually like children. I feel sorry that she has obviously missed the joy and fulfillment to be achieved from having babies. Yes, you do have to sacrifice some of your time and energy when they are tiny but it is returned to you in buckets as they get older. From the mother of four wonderful children now aged 29, 26, 24 and 23.
Helen Powell, Gloucester

It seems to me that Claire Verity's tecniques are very squarely aimed at giving parents the easiest life possible and not necessarily in the best interests of the child. Having children should be about bringing a life into the world and rejoicing in that life - what rejoicing can be had when your baby is alone in the garden?
David W, Newcastle

I agree with the routine method of handling babies. i have "successfully" reared five children by routine. a baby needs to fed, washed and comforable. it is interesting to note that this method was in place for so long and then sometime in the 70's a more dis-organised method was thought to be the only way. gradually over the decades since the 70's a total different approach has been adopted, resulting in today with a people who are more or less completely non-disciplined from as young as 1 day old right in to their twenties. i firmly believe this reflects on our society as a whole today where the sky is the limit for absolutely no boundaries either socially or morally.
christine murphy, derry n ireland

We have a 10 month old daughter and to think we would do to her what Clair Verity is preaching is unthinkable. it is simply cruel. Times move on and whilst this might have been the way in the strict man ruled world of the 1920's it is not for the 21st century. I would add though that she does not do anything to harm the children but it just doesn't seem right in this modern world.
Steve Crampton, Wombourne

I'm not a parent but my mum was told to ignore me if I cried as a baby (after quietly checking I wasn't crying for a legitimate reason!) and it apparently worked. I also believe that kids should get much more fresh air but not necessarily just plonked outside routinely! However, I can't imagine any new parents being able to resist cuddling their baby at every opporunity. 10 minutes a day? That's just silly!
Helen Preston, Swindon, UK

Whoever advised these parents that having a vehement stranger and a camera crew in your house at this time was a good idea. The time when a new baby comes into the house should be such a magical time of falling in love with your child, and learning to become a family together through trial and error. I feel sorry that they and their first babies have been denied this - they will never get that chance back.
Elizabeth Fell, London

I wasn't left to cry when I was a baby. My mum had twins so obviously it was hard work but I never felt neglected and still don't at the tender age of 35. Surely babies cry for a reason and only have primitive reactions so crying IS thier only form of communication - so to rule out why they are crying you can't ignore them - they may be wet, hungry or in pain. I don't agree with ignoring babies crying full stop!
Rachel Braithwaite, Norwich, UK

No we didn't turn out OK. Thankfully most parents ignored Truby King. And thankfully my aunts and father did as well. But without their intervention, family arguments on a grand scale and just plain sneaking behing my mother's back, heaven knows what kind of social wreck I would be. I have enough problems as it is from the regime. Luckily my family intervened when it came to my younger sister and from her I learnt how to raise my own son. No problems on sleeping, discipline or anything. Just normal parent child things. (With dyslexia added.) Lets ditch Truby King once and for all.
Moira, Farnborough

I'm only 17, and not a mother, but as a child of an excellent mother, I can safely say that I would be horrified even now if my mother refused me a hug and pushed me outside instead. Children need love. If you're not going to love them, and bring them up to know that 'God's only law is love' (in the words of Oscar Wilde) then they're going to grow up knowing only coldness.
Sophie

What about the parent's needs? The thought of only being able to cuddle my 11 month old for 10 mins each day is awful. Surely Claire Verity's methods are going to produce emotionally stunted children.
Sue, London

Ms Verity's lack of offspring should be sufficient to disqualify her as being in any way qualified to hand out child rearing advice!
Richard, Daventry

I am a psychology graduate who has studied child development, and the first thing I would say is this debate is not new. The idea that child rearing methods led to the rise of fascism was a popular theory in child psychology in the 1950s and 1960s. Beleive it or not, some people even believed that toilet training led to the formation of an "authoritarian personality". These theories have been comprehensively falsified, fascism is nothing to do with child rearing, and there is no such thing as an "authoritarian personality", both are adult constructs. The way children are bought up reflects the values of the society they are bought up in and I think this debate is not really about child rearing at all but is an adult debate about "liberal" versus "conservative" values. There simply is no credible scientific evidence that either approach leads to harm or compromises child development, it is just a debate about the fashionable versus the unfashionable. Babies develop naturally, they are very adaptable, and, provided they are not abused or neglected, there is no evidence to show that any particular method of childrearing is better than any other. But then I'm a man so what do I know !!
Matt Munro, Bristol, UK

I do not believe in tough love in any instance.Their is no such thing as it is impossible to execute toughness and loving together.It is a phrase invented by parents who have given up and/or parents who see rearing children as hard work and find no pleasure in giving up their time to attend to the needs of children.I could go on about this phenomena for pages on end.
Zie, Paradise Beach South Africa

It isn't how a baby is raised in its first weeks and months that shapes it, it has so little understanding of the world around it that all it wants is to feel fed and warm enough to sleep when it wants. It's when it gains an understanding of its position in life that actions can have an impact. There is nothing wrong with Ms Verity's methods, so long as parents understand that works on a 3 month old isn't necessarily appropriate for a 3 year old.
Anon, London

As soon to be first time parents my wife and myself have been watching the series 'Bringing Up Baby' with keen interest. I have to say however the techniques used by Claire Verity seem very harsh. I think, and I am far from being any kind of expert, that the best approach would be to take the best parts of all the methods shown on the programme and use them with your own common sense and best judgement.
Richard Watkins, Sutton, UK

No amount of money would have allowed me to keep this woman in my home for one second longer than was necessary and if the Verity experience has not scared the babies who were subjected to her abstract cruelty I would like to bet that it has scared their mothers.
Carole Rutherford, Sunderland

I would be interested to know exactly how many children Ms Verity has given birth to herself. Like so many other so-called 'experts' in child rearing, it is those who are childless that deem to know better than parents and seek to force their opinions on the population.
J Wallace, Manchester

As a mother of a young child i was so upset at the scenes of Claire Verity's ideas of parenting that i was unable to watch the programme. I feel strongly that a child's first experience of life should not be that of a dictatorship society. A child's only means of expression is crying, therefore when a child crys it is in essence trying to tell the parent or carer something or is asking a question. To ignore a child's cries is to deny them the human right of being listened to, besides which, what mother is able not to respond to their crying baby?
Marianne Lee, Chester

I thought the techniques of one of the other 'experts' on the show who says that you can't put the baby down for 6 months and that it must sleep in bed with you was more horrifying. She's the really scary woman. What's wrong with putting a baby out in the fresh air?
Claire, Leeds

I liked the concluding sentence most. It was what I was thinking while reading through the whole article. The instinct of mothers should not be discouraged by society. Humans have evolved to have these instincts for a good reason. I'd show her the door as well.
JP, UK

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