Penelope Leach

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Penelope Leach
Born Penelope Jane Balchin
(1937-11-19) 19 November 1937 (age 76)
Hampstead, London
Nationality British
Occupation Psychologist
Spouse(s) Gerald Leach (m. 1963; wid. 2004)
Children 2
Parents Nigel & Elizabeth Balchin nee Walshe

Penelope Jane Leach (born 19 November 1937), née Balchin, is a British psychologist who writes extensively on parenting issues from a child development perspective.

Leach is best known for her book Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five, published in 1977, which has sold over two million copies to date. Leach notes in the introduction to that book: "Whatever you are doing, however you are coping, if you listen to your child and to your own feelings, there will be something you can actually do to put things right or make the best of those that are wrong."

Early career[edit]

Born in Hampstead, London,[1] she is the daughter of Nigel Balchin, the novelist and screenwriter. She graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge with honours in 1959. After Cambridge, she attended the London School of Economics, where she received her PhD in psychology and lectured on child development. Her research positions have included a year in the Home Office Research Unit studying juvenile crime and six years at the Medical Research Centre Developmental Research Unit. Leach is a fellow of the British Psychological Society and was previously President of the National Childminding Association.

Books and Media[edit]

Your Baby and Child[edit]

Leach's most popular work is Your Baby and Child, which appeared in extensively revised versions in 1988 and 1997. The most recent third edition of the book is divided into five major sections, covering newborns, "settled babies," "older babies," toddlers, and "young children." Each section includes information on expected developmental milestones and patterns in the areas of sleep, eating, "crying and comforting," speech, and physical growth. The book's central thesis is to illuminate "the successive tasks of development with which [children] are involved, the kinds of thought of which they are capable and the extremes of emotion that carry them along" because "the happier you can make your baby, the more you will enjoy being with her, and the more you enjoy her, the happier she will be."

The popularity of Your Baby and Child led to a television series of the same name on Lifetime, which Leach wrote and hosted. The show won a CableACE Award and was nominated for an Emmy.

Other works[edit]

  • Babyhood (1974, rev. 1983) is a treatment of academic research on child development presented for a lay audience.
  • Your Growing Child (1986), originally published as The Child Care Encyclopedia, is a medical reference book for parents.
  • The First Six Months: Getting Together With Your Baby (1986) takes a similar approach to Your Baby and Child, with a special emphasis on the newborn.
  • Children First: What Society Must Do --- And Is Not Doing --- For Children Today (1994) is a polemic suggesting large-scale social initiatives to end child poverty and homelessness, and to enable parents to spend more time with their children.
  • Child Care Today (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)[2]

Leach has also produced several home videos (Becoming a Family, Baby to Toddler, and 'Toddler to Child') as well as a play called Snap Happy that toured schools to teach conflict resolution to preschool and school-aged children.

Current projects[edit]

Leach's major current project is directing a large-scale United Kingdom project on the longitudinal effects of various forms of daycare and childcare on children and their parents. She also serves on the curriculum board for Sesame Street and writes parenting advice columns for several publications, including Junior Magazine and the website BabyCenter.


Leach has been criticised for her view that young children require one-on-one attention, ideally provided by mothers, and which cannot be provided in day-care.[3] Criticism has focused on (a) Leach's idolising of mothers and difficulty giving fathers equal importance, perhaps because of unresolved trauma in her past,[4] and (b) Leach's opposition to child-care not provided by mothers being unsupported by scientific evidence.[5]

Leach has also been heavily criticised for being 'anti-fathers' specifically for stating in her book Your Baby & Child: From Birth To Age Five that only mothers can provide adequate care for a young child and that the father's role is necessarily secondary.

Upon the release of her book Family Breakdown Leach was criticised for saying that there was 'undisputed evidence' that sleepovers with a divorced father can cause 'emotional damage' to a young child. Leach restated this position in print and on television.

This view has been vigorously disputed, particularly by Professors Richard Warshak and Linda Nielsen in a report endorsed by 110 childcare specialists from around the world published in the February 2014 issue of Psychology, Public Policy and Law, a journal of the American Psychological Association.[6]


The second daughter of the novelist Nigel Balchin, in 1963 she married the science journalist Gerald A. Leach (1933–2004) with children:

  • Melissa A. Leach (1965–)
  • Matthew Darian Leach (1968–)


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1938 1a 808 HAMPSTEAD – Penelope J. Balchin, mmn = Walshe
  2. ^ Penelope Leach. Child Care Today. Random House. ISBN 9781400042562. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Lawson, Carol (13 June 1991). "Growing Up With Help From Penelope Leach". New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Morrison, Blake (17 April 1994). "She Who Must Be Obeyed: Penelope Leach, scourge of the guilty middle-class parent, has produced another book. Baby and Child became the child-rearers' bible. Children First is a manifesto for children's rights". The Independent. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Eyer, Diane E. (1997). "There Is No Evidence That Mothers Harm Their Infants and Toddlers by Working Outside the Home". In Mary Roth Walsh. Women, Men & Gender. Yale University Press. pp. 391–398. ISBN 978-0300069389. 
  6. ^ Warshak, Richard A. (February 2014). "Social science and parenting plans for young children: A consensus report.". Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 20 (1): 46–67. doi:10.1037/law0000005. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 

External links[edit]