The research so far on the effects of daycare has been mixed. Children in daycare have been shown to demonstrate better language and cognitive skills, and they seem to do better academically during the early school years than children who never attended daycare. Furthermore, if the home setting is stressful or unstructured, attending a daycare can offer more opportunities to learn and socialize with their peers. On the other hand, there is some evidence that kids who receive 30 or more hours per week of non-parental care may be more likely to exhibit stress-related behavioral problems like aggression and disobedience. Hyperactivity is also sometimes linked to children in day care settings.
Some parents keep their kids home out of guilt, thinking it’s better for them to care for their children than anyone else. But you should be aware that even if you work from home, it may not be in your child’s best interest to keep them home. Being home and bored is not necessarily better than allowing a very qualified childcare provider to care for your child in the busy hours of your day.
So what’s a concerned parent to do? First, it’s nearly impossible to make across-the-board conclusions about the long-term impact of daycare. Each child is unique, and parents—even those who rely heavily on outside help—play the most significant role in a child’s development.
All daycare providers are not created equal either, and research consistently shows that children who receive “high quality” care fare best. There is solid evidence to support the idea that spending substantial time in a good daycare program has little bearing on whether a child will exhibit problems like defiance and restlessness.
Although quality can be subjective, there are steps parents can take to help them choose the best possible option for their children. When you’re considering a daycare facility, pay attention to the caregiver-to-child ratio, the caregiver’s level of education, and whether the center is accredited by a group such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Association of Family Child Care. You should also look for a provider who is friendly; prompts communication by talking, singing, and asking questions; and encourages the kids in the group to laugh, play, and interact with each other.
Raquel Anderson, Bundoo Behavioral Health Specialist, has 14 years of experience as a mental health provider in institutional and private practice. Aside from her work with Bundoo, she is an advisory board member for the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County’s Be Merge Initiative and is a contributing author to Raising Boys with ADHD.