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Study: Children Attending Daycare More Likely To Show Aggressive Behavior

According to a new study, young children who spend an extended period of time each week in daycare may be more likely to misbehave when they are in kindergarten. Researchers found that children who spent 30 hours or more per week in daycare had the most severe behavior problems later on in kindergarten.

Sarah Friedman, lead author of the study, is a child psychologist at the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development.

The study was comprised of three papers. One looked at how the quality of childcare can affect children's behavior. The second paper examined what kind of effect the quantity of time in daycare can have on a child's behavior, and the third looked at how the type of childcare can affect a child's behavior.

The conclusions in the study were based on ratings of children by their mothers, the childcare providers, and kindergarten teachers.

The study found that the higher the quality of childcare in the first 3 years of life, the better the outcome cognitively, in language and achievement. The researchers also found that children who spent an average of 26 hours per week in non-maternal care were more likely to be rated to have behavior problems.

Some behavior problems examined by the study:

  • Demanding attention.
  • Interrupting other people.
  • Not complying with requests made by the teacher or childcare provider.
  • Bullying.

The group of children who spent more time in daycare as a whole--compared to those who spent 10 hours or less in daycare and were primarily with their mothers--had higher scores. But they were still in the normal range, says Friedman. The threshold for clinical problems had not been crossed.

"Among the children in extensive childcare, 17% had scores in the risk range," says Friedman. "Among children in exclusive maternal care, it was 6% [in the high behavior risk range]. It's still not something to run to a psychiatrist for, but it shows an elevation."

She says these findings and what they mean may be a matter of interpretation, and different people will have different research or policy recommendations.

"My take is that we need to understand why this is happening," Friedman says. "[Quantity of time in daycare] may not be the cause." But she says they have found a statistical link. "The cause may be the fact that childcare providers are trained to focus on cognitive and achievement skills and not on self-regulation and emotional regulation and ability to deal with frustration. Another possibility may be that when a child is in daycare, the parents may be working a lot of hours, and that the parents are stressed at the end of the day and may not give their children the attention they deserve. Or, it may be the cause of all of them together. We don't know."

Interview with Judsen Culbreth, editor in chief of Scholastic Parent & Child and Scholastic Early Childhood Today magazines:

What are some things that working moms have told you about their children in childcare?

I have collected surveys and information and many parents appreciate and are very satisfied. They said that their children learned social skills, how to share with others, and how to verbalize.

Do you think that quality of care makes a difference?

Definitely. You need to look at things such as if it were an overcrowded place, if it had too few teachers, if it were a noisy environment, etc. I think that these factors were not examined closely enough in this study.

What could explain why kids in childcare become more aggressive or disobedient?

I think that a reason for why kids may seem disobedient is that children relax when their parents come to pick them up and so the kids vent. Therefore, parents may call it disobedience but it is really kids feeling relieved to see their parents and just acting up a little bit. So it's not ncessarily disobedience.

In trying to determine the best interests of the child, is it better for mothers to work or stay at home?

In every study, the real factor is maternal warmth and attention. If there is warmth in their home life, then the child will thrive. On the other hand, you can't warehouse children and leave them in childcare for too much time. Parents do need to make sacrifices and this will just give parents an alert.

Some would say that working parents are tired and stressed and it's not necessarily the childcare that's the problem. Do you agree?

I definitely think that a mother being stressed-out and bringing tension home can exacerbate the problem. The parent needs to pull together and just take a few minutes to unwind and then spend quality time with the child.

Are you concerned that this study will send the wrong message?

The bottom line is parents need to be reassuring and [conscious]. You can't let one study make such an impact. I'm worried that this will cut funding for childcare and not increase it, which is what we need.

Background Information on the Study

A large federally sponsored research study has found a link between how much time children spend in daycare before they start school and their behavior in kindergarten. The study followed 1,364 children in 10 cities in the United States from early infancy.

The researchers found that children who spent long hours in daycare and other types of non-maternal care tended to have more behavioral problems in kindergarten compared to children who were primarily taken care of by their mothers. They were more aggressive, defiant, and disobedient. Although these children had higher misbehaving scores, the researchers stressed that most of them still fell within the range of what is considered normal child behavior.

This study has not been published yet, and it still needs to undergo a scientifipeer-review evaluation. But the link that researchers have found is sure to add fuel to the ongoing debate on whether or not mothers should stay home and take care of their children. This is the largest study of this kind that has been done in the United States.

In the study, researchers looked at all types of non-maternal childcare, which includes daycare and children being taken care of by nannies and relatives.
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