Book review: Sue Gerhardt “Why Love Matters”

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Sue Gerhardt offers the most in-depth explanation of brain function that I have ever read.

I trained as a nanny nearly 30 years ago. Since then, I have worked all over the world for a variety of families, and had my own child. I am rather embarrassed to admit that beyond mainstream media and childcare publications, I have done little serious reading to keep myself updated on the latest science and thinking on early childhood education since training.
In the lead up to my 50th birthday, I decided to mark the occasion by creating a list of fifty things I wanted to do while fifty years old. One of the first choices was to catch up on my continuing professional development by reading more early childhood theorists.
Not knowing where to start, I turned to the wonderful and wise people of Nalo, who made over a dozen recommendations – many enthusiastically endorsed by several nannies – and promptly did nothing about it until a month past my birthday, citing time poverty.
Fortunately, Covid-19 interrupted the mad whirl and I suddenly had nowhere to go outside of work. A free month of Amazon Prime beckoned and I ordered every last book on my list. I browsed through four books but made little real progress until a combination of prebooked holiday and furlough meant I finally had both the time and the inclination to read.

Of the books I had started, “Why Love Matters” by Sue Gerhardt called me the most. Its subtitle “how affection shapes a baby’s brain” was an enticing premise.
I’m a bit of a geek and love theory to be backed up by solid scientific evidence – that the bibliography cites 673 sources made me trust that the evidence stacks up.
Sue Gerhardt offers the most in-depth explanation of brain function that I have ever read. I plan to re-read the book to fully assimilate all of the novel information, using mind maps and biological drawings to assist my memory.

The title gives a good indication of what to expect to find inside… it does indeed explain why love matters. Researchers have been able to prove how secure, functional attachments can significantly reduce the likelihood of future problems including depression, addiction , eating and personality disorders.
Equally, Gerhardt outlines without judgement how unresponsive/ unpredictable parenting and childcare contribute to an increased likelihood of disruptive, aggressive and callous behaviour – but more importantly, what can be done to mitigate against it.

As I read the book, I related some of the examples of the various responses to insecure attachment – resistant and avoidant among them – to people in my personal life. I had moments of real clarity regarding behaviour which had previously mystified and frustrated me.
However useful on a personal level, I had intended to apply the findings to my professional life, so what of that? Precisely because it is so lacking in judgement, the advice on diet and exercise is easy to take on board. Equally, it affirmed my existing attitude to the inadvisability of methods like “controlled crying” and other unsympathetic responses to babies’ cues of hunger, thirst and boredom. In short, I consider this book to be a valuable resource and I would thoroughly recommend it to others.

Written by Adele Scott, a daily nanny in London.

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