For years, parents have debated what seems like a simple enough question: is daycare bad for kids? Although social scientists have repeatedly studied this topic, there still isn’t a definitive answer.
According to a research review in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, kids who receive non-parental care for at least 30 hours a week may be somewhat more likely to develop stress-related behavioral problems, including aggression and disobedience. A British study also linked group care to behavior issues, especially hyperactivity.
On the other side, however, some of the very same studies have found that children in daycare demonstrate better language and cognitive skills, and they seem to do better academically during the early school years. Research has also shown that children of depressed mothers are less likely to develop emotional problems themselves if they attend daycare.
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. In fact, a recent study from Norway found 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 some steps parents can take in an effort to 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.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, September 2020
- Studies about the long-term impact of daycare have yielded mixed results.
- Some research has suggested that kids who spend a lot of time in daycare may be more likely to develop behavioral problems.
- Daycare may be beneficial: it’s been linked to better language and cognitive skills.