Penelope Leach To Parents: `Kids Learn And Flourish In A Lighthearted Atmosphere'

Penelope Leach has spent most of her career cheering parents on, urging them to see things through a baby's eyes.

The well-known British psychologist brought her "child-centered" philosophy to Seattle yesterday, drawing a full house for her advice on everything from day care to "positive" discipline.

Should allowance be tied to chores? (No, don't pay children to help clean up around the house, which you do yourself for free, Leach said.)

How do you wean an 11-month-old baby while sharing a family bed? (Get her into her own bed before weaning; changing both habits at once would be too much, Leach advised.)

In the ever-controversial world of child-rearing, Leach leans toward a more liberal philosophy. She advises taking cues from one's baby, such as feeding infants on demand rather than on rigid schedules.

Author of "Your Baby and Child From Birth to Age Five," Leach spoke at First Methodist Church in Seattle as part of the "Tools for Parents" lecture series.

"If I could give parents just one tip," Leach said, "make sure your children get more positive attention from you than negative attention. Some kids will do anything for attention, and will settle for any kind of attention."

But Leach, while imploring parents to beware of over-hyped research or the media scare of the moment, had quite a few reassurances for parents:

-- Once a mother and baby are securely attached, their attachment is not threatened by being apart, as in day care.

-- A caregiver can provide attachment that is whole and secure and does not detract from the baby's bond with his mother.

-- Assuming a decent quality of day care, research has shown that a close, sensitive relationship between parent and child is more important to the child's development than the comparative quality of the day care.

About punishment, she recommends ignoring misdemeanors, like sulky faces and muttered imprecations; dont ask a kid to repeat what he just said so you can hear it.

Do consider useful any punishment that will give the child a chance "to put things right" and show him or her the consequences of wrongdoing, such as returning a shoplifted item to the store.

Don't set limits if you don't intend to do whatever it takes to keep the limits intact, Leach said. "It is up to adults to set and enforce limits to contain children's actions," she said. "Children cannot be expected to just obey or cooperate with verbal-set limits."

And don't worry so much about the latest trend. "Is it better to massage your infant than to cuddle? Is taking your baby to a gym class better than rolling around on your double bed?" These are silly judgments, according to Leach.

Lighten up, she advises. "Kids learn and flourish in a lighthearted atmosphere. Bringing children up well is the only job in the world that actually depends on our enjoying it."

For more information about upcoming "Tools for Parents" lectures, call 800-794-1018.