Working parents have valid concerns about how time spent in child care may impact their children over the long term. A new study focused on the connection between time spent in child care and the development of bad behavior concluded there is “little evidence” that the longer children spend in child care, they will develop problem behavior.
The study, recently published in Child Development magazine, was conducted by researchers in North America and Europe. The lead researcher was Catalina Rey-Guerra, Ph.D. candidate and a fellow at Boston College. Data collected from seven other studies was used. These studies collectively observed over 10 thousand toddlers and preschoolers in the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. The report concludes that the more time a child spends in child care, the possibility of bad behavioral habits developing was highly unlikely. Bad habits that were examined included hitting, kicking, fighting, biting, or bullying.
Other Studies Say Otherwise
Several studies have been many studies conducted on the topic of behavior and time spent in child care. One study, conducted in 2019, concentrated on the universal school program in Quebec. It found that children in child care programs had increased incidents of illness and aggression. The study identified that those negative issues extended into adult life. A different study from 2007 focused on children in the US, found that teacher-reported behavior issues in elementary school children were the ones who spent more time in center-based child care. Other studies cannot specifically point to a link between child care and bad behavior, nor have they found fewer behavior problems in children who were cared for mostly by their mothers.
Researchers Have Theories on the Results
Why do the studies differ in results? There are several theories. One points to child care reducing a child’s attachment to a parent. Others claim that children may pick up bad habits from peers. A study from 2015 states that bad behavior in children who attend child care can be the result of a poor caregiver-child relationship. The same study suggests negative peer interactions could be the cause. The study also conclusively found that bad behavior was less in high-quality child care environments.
More on the New Study
The new study suggests that the teacher-to-child ratio is an important component in the classroom. Too many children in a child care classroom increases the risk of bad behavior. Standards for child care providers regarding the number of children in their care in proportion to the number of teachers have been set by the industry. Ideal teacher-to-child ratios are set at 1:4 for infants,1:7 for toddlers, and 1:8 for preschoolers.
What Lead Researcher Had to Say
Lead researcher, Catalina Rey-Guerra, says, “Given the existing evidence of long-term achievement benefits of early childhood care and education for children, I think our findings speak to both the direct positive effects that attending child care might have on children, and also the indirect positive effects through their parents being able to participate in the workforce without the fear of any harmful effects to their child.”
The Need to Meet a Child’s Needs
Another key factor, according to Dr. Carol Weitzman, a pediatrician in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, is a child’s needs must be met — regardless. She explains that, “You are more likely to see maladaptive and stressed behaviors such as aggression, acting out, and mood dysregulation” in children whose needs are not met. She adds that quality child care supports children, “so they can learn to identify and describe emotions and negotiate increasingly complex social situations.” One element that aids in the development of friendships and the ability to better understand their environments comes from the exposure preschoolers have while in child care. They learn to share. They learn to take turns. These experiences build the foundation of good behavior.
The Study Inspires a New Question
Weitzman, who was not involved in the study, says there is a slightly bigger issue that the study indirectly uncovers. She explains, “When women comprise approximately 50 percent of the US workforce, our questions should be about how to ensure quality and affordable care for all children and how to establish and enforce child-friendly parental leave policies.” She says the US ranks the lowest of the five countries in the study on the topic of paid parental and maternity leave. She further states that the US also ranks the lowest on this topic when compared to forty other developed nations.
How the New Study Findings Fit in the Child Care Picture
Rey-Guerra says the new study broke ground that other studies did not. For example, she states that family income and maternal education became part of the study to see if there were links to behavior problems in child care. Without identifying a link with these and other factors included in the study, Rey-Guerra says the researchers’ findings are “more robust” as a result. Additionally, this new study found that the conclusions were consistent across several age groups which, “strengthens the argument that time in child care is not detrimental for children in different developmental periods.”
Several studies have been conducted, with differing results, on the topic of a correlation between time spent in child care and the development of bad behavior. A recent study took into account many other factors that were not included in previous ones. The results show that bad behavior, such as bullying, fighting, biting, and kicking is not likely to develop because a child spends time in child care. In addition, the longer a child remains in care, the risk of developing bad habits does not increase. With the considerable amount of research that has gone into this question, and the positive conclusion of this new study, it should parents minds at ease when deciding on whether or not to use a child care service.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.