PJ Media

Daycare, Social Skills and Cognitive Development

A number of readers have emailed me to comment on the recent studies on the pitfalls of daycare on the development of children. One such a href=”http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2036862,00.html”British article/a points out that nurseries harm small children–Note that these daycares are run as part of a government involved program:br /br /blockquoteSteve Biddulph, whose books have sold more than 4m copies worldwide, says that instead of subsidising nurseries, which do a “second-rate” job, the government should put in place policies to enable mothers to stay at home with their babies. The advice signals a reversal of views for Biddulph, an Australian with more than 20 years’ experience as a therapist, whose previous bestsellersbr /include Raising Boys and Raising Girls.br /br /In his new book Biddulph will admit he has changed his mind because of growing evidence of increased aggression, antisocial behaviour and other problems among children who have spent a large part of their infancy being cared for away from home. br /br /He argues that such children may have problems developing close relationships later./blockquotebr /br /In anothera href=”http://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/ebrief_25_english.pdf” Canadian study /a on Quebec’s Universal Childcare Program, the researchers found that the children in universal daycare were worse off on every measure when compared to other children, which included fighting more and being aggressive(Hat Tip to a href=”http://jwwells.blogspot.com/2006/02/daycare-and-harm-to-kids.html”J W Well’s /ablog for pointing out this study).br /br /My instincts tell me that something is amiss in these studies–they both look at other countries with subsidized/government-involved childcare. I wonder how government involvement and the quality of caregiving play a part in the negative outcomes of these studies? What about American daycares that are private–what do those outcomes look like? I took a look at a recent study in the emAmerican Psychologist/em this month that summarizes findings from the National Institute of Child Health and the Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.br /br /Briefly, the study recruited participants from hospitals in various states and compared children who had exclusive maternal care with children who experienced at least some child care (with others or in a daycare center) on a variety of developmental outcomes. The researchers also examined child-care characteristics and included only children observed in their child-care setting. What did they find?br /br /In the maternal vs. child-care kids, use of child care was not significantly related to cognitive outcomes at 15, 36,or 54 months or to social or peer outcomes at any age. Not surprisingly, the quality of the child care was important. Children in the study who experienced higher quality child care scored modestly higher on all cognitive measures, most ratings of social outcomes, and some peer outcomes. Now for the bad news–in comparing kids with high and low hours of child care per week–caregivers tended to report more problem behaviors and fewer social skills at 54 months when children had more hours of child care. Those with center care compared to those without center care had better cognitive and language outcomes and more positive peer interactions but lower ratings of social skills by the caregiver and more problem behaviors at 36 months.br /br /So, what does this mean? Child-care quality (sensitive and responsive caregiving as well as cognitive and language stimulation) is important! And if you decide to use a daycare, research the place very thoroughly and make sure the caregivers are attentive to your child and talk to him or her. Pop in unexpectedly and see how the place runs when no one is really watching.br /br /Quantity of child care–hours per week–is a predictor of social functioning as children who spent more time in child care displayed more negative behavior at 54 months. So, perhaps limiting some hours in day care centers for very young children may be a possibility if one of the parents can put in more time until the child is older. But, in this study, exclusive maternal care was not related to better or worse outcomes for children–so overall, children may not be worse off.br /br /I am concerned with the problem behaviors displayed by emsome/em kids with full time child care experiences–the reason is that in elementary school, some may be harder to manange and the other children may try to imitate them and increase problems in the classroom. My advice would be to get to know the personality of your child. For my daughter, fewer social skills was not a problem, but if you have a child who is more aggressive, temperamental or hard to control, it might be better to restrict the number of hours in daycare. Overall, there are no easy solutions to the child care problem and each family will have to decide what is right for them until further research can clarify some of these issues.