Lynne Murray interview: 'A lot of people writing baby books don’t know the research'

Susie Mesure meets Lynne Murray, who says the ‘terrible twos’ don’t exist, and has more good news for working parents

There’s a certain irony in hearing Professor Lynne Murray implore new parents not to feed or rock their babies to sleep. The infant development expert knows only too well the “nightmare” that it can create, even when your children have long since fled the nest. “I’m hopeless at sleeping even now,” she admits; and all because the mother of three, 63, “was absolutely hopeless at getting babies to sleep through the night”.

She never could leave babies wailing – “I just don’t think I’d have been capable” – and, indeed, sees real “ethical issues” with the trend for so-called controlled crying, otherwise known as letting babies scream, which could have “implications for attachment security”. And she should know: the developmental psychology professor, who is based at the University of Reading, has spent more than four decades studying hundreds of infants and the ways in which they develop.

I also blink twice at the revelation that she relies on a screen to interact with her two grandchildren, which comes barely minutes after her warning about the pernicious effects of leaving infants slumped in front of a two-dimensional babysitter. But her grandchildren are five, well past the two-years-and-under threshold under which research shows that even TV programmes designed for infants can be damaging. She uses Skype for a “weekly book-sharing” session with her grandchildren, who now live in Brazil. (Her daughter-in-law is Brazilian.)

This makes sense because she is passionate about the benefits of reading to children, even very young babies, who can learn to focus their attention on simple shapes or squiggles, attention span being one of the best indicators of later IQ. “I have my Roald Dahl book,” she says of her weekly date, “and they have the same edition, so we can both look at the same pictures. They’re old enough to follow the story. It works so much better than ‘Let’s have a conversation with Granny.’ They’re always asking their mum and dad: ‘When can we do book-sharing with Granny?’”

This example is apt because Professor Murray is all about the evidence when it comes to young children, which is what makes her latest book, The Psychology of Babies, such a joy. And lest the thought of yet another new baby book elicits any groans from parents saturated with the beasts, it’s not that sort of book and she isn’t that sort of author. I refer, of course, to the wealth of opinionated literature by so-called experts, who often haven’t even had their own children (yes, you, Gina Ford), let alone spent decades studying them.

“I’d like to hope that this is a book parents wouldn’t feel fatigued by. It’s not: ‘You should do this; you shouldn’t do that.’ That must be absolutely awful!” She is careful not to name names, but adds: “I think there are a lot of people writing baby books who perhaps don’t know the research evidence. It’s huge.” She alone has contributed more than 200 academic papers on the subject.

Her book gallops through the latest evidence on how relationships support development from birth to age two, helping to put young children “on the right pathway”. And by relationships, she means carers as well as parents. Indeed, one of the many positive messages is that parents anxious about dumping their bundle on someone else while they work should relax. “Babies don’t form just one attachment, but a number, with up to four or five special people who’ve been involved in their care. And it’s not necessarily the case that the parent is going to be the one who gives the best care.” Even better: “There’s no evidence at all” that this lessens the bond between young children and their mums and dads. And there’s more: “In the UK, there’s no evidence of detrimental effects of daycare on children’s development, because it is still quite well regulated.” Take that, Daily Mail.

What Professor Murray wants is for parents to pause and think about life from their infant’s standpoint. Just seeing things from a baby’s point of view can help to avoid the conflicts that can make life such hell for all involved. Her work is intensely empathetic; thus she invites parents to imagine how their toddler is only trying to help by pulling everything out of the washing machine as quickly as they are putting it in.

The upshot of “getting children on board to be helpful” or “shared cooperation” to use her official  term, is it can even help to avoid  the terrible twos by preventing aggression.

Many old wives’ tales, like the “terrible twos”, fly in the face of everything Professor Murray is learning from research. This can be dangerous in countries such as South Africa, where she spends a couple of months each year as an extraordinary professor at Stellenbosch University. “They absolutely believe that babies can’t see or hear until they are a good few weeks old. If you believe that, why bother talking to a baby? Why bother doing face-to-face play?” Back home, which for her is Oxford, old wives’ tales are slightly less extreme, although telling parents a newborn’s smile is just wind “can take away so much pleasure”.

“When I had my first child I was in Scotland, on the maternity ward, and I was much frowned upon because I would pick him up when he cried. ‘Oh, you’ll make a stick to break your back with.’ And that’s just completely going against really solid evidence that actually if you do pick your baby up when they cry, they’ll cry less later on down the line, because they’ve got the sense that someone’s there that’s available, that they can rely on, so they’ll feel confident to deal with challenges.”

It isn’t only infants who’ll feel better about dealing with challenges after reading The Psychology of Babies; I’m willing to bet the step-by-step examples of parent/baby interactions will help mums and dads no end. And, yes, that stretches to trying to get babies to sleep by themselves.

Curriculum vitae

1950: Born in Prestbury, Cheshire.

1973: Graduates from the University of Edinburgh.

1980: Completes PhD from the same institution.

Post 1980: Takes time out to care for children.

1985: Begins work as Winnicott senior research fellow at Cambridge University.

1990: Becomes Medical Research Council senior fellow at Cambridge.

1996: Moves to University of Reading on fellowship.

2005: The Social Baby is published to much acclaim.

2009: Becomes a grandmother.

2009: Publishes work on treating parental sensitivity and child attachment security.

2011: Starts research for the NSPCC on the “Minding the Baby” intervention.

2014: The Psychology of Babies is published.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Soft Developer (4.0, C#, Windows Services, Sockets, LINQ, WCF)

    £65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer (4.0, C#, Windows ...

    C# Developer -Winforms, VB6 - Trading Systems - Woking

    £1 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading financial software house with its He...

    C #Programmer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#) -Hertfordshire-Finance

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C #Developer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#, A...

    JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Woking

    £1 per annum: Harrington Starr: JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Tr...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home