17 Mar

Book Review: The Psychology of Babies, by Lynne Murray

Lynne Murray is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at Reading University, and this is her second book. Her first book, The Social Baby, is an essential tool for most antenatal teachers, and really useful for parents too. The Psychology of Babies is a very detailed text on psychological development from birth to the age of 2, richly illustrated with photographed sequences showing interactions between babies and their parents.

Subtitled “How relationships support development,” the central focus is on how sensitive parenting supports a range of developments in the areas of social understanding and co-operation, attachment, self-regulation and control, and cognitive development. The book provides an academic level of information and is extremely well-referenced. It would certainly be useful to anyone studying child development or working with families and children. It may well also be interesting to parents, however there are more accessible texts such as What Every Parent Needs To Know, which I would be inclined to suggest as an alternative.

As a general read, I found it a bit heavy, and would be more likely to dip into particular sessions. In some places the photographs are too small for any useful detail to come across, although they are all captioned with explanations.

The chapter on self-regulation covers infant sleep, however there is a real contradiction in the way Murray writes about attachment, promoting sensitive parenting (see pages 74 and 78, for example), and the advice to discourage reliance on the parent when it comes to bedtime; and she fails to address the “ethical questions of whether it is acceptable to leave babies to cry for any length of time” (p164), in any meaningful way. It’s clear that despite her comments in the Independent interview linked above, she subscribes to the notion that babies shouldn’t rely on their parents to settle at night.

There is a very interesting section on supporting babies to settle into childcare settings, which could be useful and reassuring for parents in this situation. This includes discussion of research into the effects of childcare on social and emotional development, and the importance of high quality care.

The section covering the introduction of solid foods is disappointing, with its limited focus on spoon feeding, starting from five months, and nothing on developmental signs of being ready for solids, which arguably would fit the remit of this book.

The final part that I want to mention is the pages covering TV and books in relation to cognitive development. This is something that could be usefully and effectively shared with parents, particularly in light of the huge force of commercialism pressuring parents to buy Stuff to entertain and educate their children.

I enjoyed leafing through this book, and will take some ideas into my work, but it would not be the first book that I recommended for new parents to read.