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Talk about controversial topics!  This is one many mothers would choose to avoid.  However, with 70 percent of American mothers with minor children in the labor force (60 percent of those with children under age three), the question certainly needs to be asked and answered.  “The Effects of Day Care on the Social-Emotional Development of Children,” authored by Dr. Jenet Jacob Erickson, provides analysis of 30 years of research on the effects of non-maternal child care (day care) on children’s social-emotional development.”

The report looked specifically at the relationship and attachment levels between child and parent.  It analyzed such things as “social competence, compliance, behavior problems, peer interaction, and self-esteem.”  It also looked at such behaviors as assertiveness, aggression, neediness, and disobedience/defiance.

Here are some of the report’s major findings:

  •  “Maternal sensitivity and the mother’s psychological health is the strongest and most consistent predictor of a secure attachment relationship for children both in and out of child care.”
  • Children who spend 30 hours per week “in day care are more likely to exhibit problematic social behaviors including aggression, conflict, poorer work habits and risk-taking behaviors throughout childhood and into adolescence.”
  • These problematic behaviors and slower social development are especially seen in children who begin spending extensive time in day care before turning one year-old.
  • The quality of childcare “does not reduce the negative effects” brought on by exposing children to long hours of day care.
  • Mothers of young children who “spend long hours in day care show a decrease in sensitivity in their interactions with their child” and “less positive engagement.”
  • Married mothers are more sensitive to their children and more likely to have positive interaction with their children, helping to develop more secure attachment between mother and child—an important aspect in reducing the risk of problem behaviors in children.
  • “More hours in child care predicts significantly fewer social skills and poorer work habits in 3rd-grade measures.  By the 6th grade, more hours in center care predicts more problem behaviors, but is not associated with social skills and work habits.  By age 15, more hours in non-relative child care during the early years predicts more problem behaviors and increased risk-taking and impulsivity.”
  • “Where fathers, grandmothers, or other relatives provided early child care, negative social-behavioral effects seemed to diminish across development.”

What about Pre-K education?

According to the report, policy makers should be careful in considering proposals for universal pre-K education because of the combination of existing questions as to the cognitive benefits, and the report’s findings related to “negative social-emotional and behaviors outcomes associated with early child care.”

The report encourages “the development of policies that would allow parents to make choices that would reduce the amount of time children spend in non-maternal child care throughout the earliest years.”    It mentions things like expanding parental leave, implementing policies that would help parents, particularly mothers, spend more time with children without jeopardizing their jobs, allowing parents to purchase insurance for part-time work, etc.

If you’re a parent who has your child in daycare, or are considering it, you will want to thoroughly read through the study and understand the implications.

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