Time in Daycare Linked to Behavioral Problems
> 3/26/2007 1:42:48 PM

The latest reports from a long-term study sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development indicate that children who spend considerable amounts of time in the care of adults other than their parents are also more likely to cause behavioral problems in class. This pattern holds true up to the study's last research period, when the students involved were attending the sixth grade. In a surprise development, the trend also applies when data is controlled for daycare quality ratings, family situations and socioeconomic standing, and infant temperament. The data works on a quantitative scale, finding that the more time children spent in daycare or some related form of non-maternal supervision for the first five years of their lives, the more likely they were to have regular conflicts with adults in kindergarten.

Starting with their births in 1991, the study continues to follow the progress of more than 1,200 children across the country, working with parents, teachers and caregivers to measure their progress through questionnaires and statistical summaries based on information gathered at preset data collection meetings. At certain points, researchers have also visited each child at home, in daycare and in a labratory play environment. In order to offer more controlled results, researchers initially ruled out the participation of children with cognitive disabilities.

Not all of the report's implications are negative: results show that children who received quality child-care before entering kindergarten performed better on vocabulary tests well into the fifth grade. Preschool has been proven to improve academic performance in most cases. And though the study's results were constant, they also fell within the normal range of behaviors for healthy children. Kids who spent extended periods in the presence of unrelated adults every day were more likely to misbehave in kindergarten, but these trends soon vanished unless the children continued to spend large amounts of time away from home. Still, the study's largest conclusion is not encouraging: the more time kids spend in daycare as they get older, the less likely they are to demonstrate proper behavior in the classroom or at home. A new battery of questions follows: does the childcare experience lead directly to a greater instance of aggressive and defiant behavior? Is an increase in working mothers leading to a generation of badly behaved kids? The debate seems as old as childcare itself, and it will not be resolved by the current research, as the parents involved in the study ulimately decided where their children would spend their free time and the research involved was not designed to determine causality.

Beyond the arguments surrounding the relative values of preschool and day care, the study reaffirms longheld beliefs about the presence of a child's parents in his or her life. Its results indicate that genetic cues and parental involvement are, as expected, the largest factors in determining later patterns of behavior. This does not mean that stay-at-home moms are more efficient caregivers or that they raise more obedient, and ultimately successful, children. It simply means that, as far as the study has progressed to this point, subjects who have been deprived of parental supervision and, more importantly, affection have been less likely to develop into well-adjusted adolescents. The more individual attention children receive, the more likely they are to be confident in themselves and respectful of others. Exactly how to provide kids with the care they need remains an issue for parents to consider very carefully.

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