Fathers angered by psychologist's claims that under-fives are damaged by 'sleepovers' with their separated fathers

Baby guru Penelope Leach says spending the night away from their mothers 'reduces brain development'

Separated fathers angered by psychologist's claims that babies and toddlers can be are damaged by 'sleepovers' with the other parent

Baby guru Penelope Leach says being time-shared between the primary carer and the other parent can affect brain development in children under four

One of Britain's leading parenting experts has angered fathers' rights groups by claiming that babies and toddlers of separated couples should not, as a general rule, routinely spend nights with the parent who is not their primary carer, which in more than 90 per cent of families is the mother.

Psychologist Penelope Leach, whose parenting books have sold millions, claims that children under four should not be separated from their primary carer for regular “sleepovers” with their other parent – usually the father – when  couples have parted ways, unless the child is “securely attached to both parents and turns to each parent for comfort”.

In her new book, Family Breakdown: helping children hang on to both parents, Dr Leach, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birckbeck College in London and former president of the National Childminding Association, says attempts by separated parents and family courts to “share” young children is are putting “adult rights” above those of children. She argues that “when people say that it’s ‘only fair’ for a father and mother to care for their five-year old daughter on alternate weeks, they mean it is fair to the adults – who see her as a possession and her presence as their right – not that it is fair to the child”. She goes on to describe “clear evidence” that in certain circumstances overnight separations of a very young child from the primary carer are highly stressful and that repeated experience of high-level stress is potentially damaging to brain development and secure attachment.

Psychologist Penelope Leach believes young children should stay with their mother Psychologist Penelope Leach believes young children should stay with their mother (Rex) Published this week, the book argues that “we can do divorce and separation better in terms of what the child needs”, but it has already angered fathers' rights campaigners.

The book also takes aim at the family-law profession by arguing that “when a lawyer bids for his client to have his baby or toddler to stay overnight each weekend they are both ignoring clear evidence that such overnight separations from the mother are not only usually distressing, but also potentially damaging to the brain development and secure attachment of children under about four”.

A spokesman for New Father's 4 Justice group said: “Leach's advice sounds like absolute poison and potentially terribly damaging to children's development. Overnight stays with fathers from as early an age as possible is crucial if children are to form strong attachments with both of their parents.”

Ian Maxwell, of the charity Families Need Fathers, said Dr Leach's argument was “worrying” for fathers and went against “common sense”. “The bond between fathers and children is just as important.” “The idea [of] maternal bonds being the strongest goes back to classic attachment theory, and I think we've moved on quite considerably since then – and also the involvement of fathers in their children's lives has also developed quite considerably.”

This was a view echoed by Dr Linda Nielsen, writing recently for the American Psychological Association. She said that arguments in favour of mother-only parenting only appealed to people who rely on the outdated argument that “females have a maternal instinct or neurological structures in their brains that better equip them to bond and communicate with infants”.

Dr Leach strongly defended her position against suggestions of being anti-father, arguing that: “In the long term fathers are as important as mothers. Accumulating research from all over the world shows clearly that it is highly desirable that children of all ages should have the best possible relationship with both parents and parents should support that. Mothers shouldn't try and limit fathers’ access to children to force them to pay maintenance. Being a father is not a reward for good behaviour.”

She added that the rights of a child must always outweigh those of the parents, and challenged the idea that ”equal parenting ought to be equal numbers of days and nights with each parent, without regard with what is best for the individual child. It can be damaging to the child to divide time equally between the parents.“

• This article has been amended to clarify that Dr Leach’s argument about the potential damage of sleepovers relates to children being separated from their primary carer (not, as a matter of principle, from their mother). 25 July 2014

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
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

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Day In a Page

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride