Children who have attended daycare are not more likely to have behavior problems than those who have not, says a new study of some 75,000 children in Norway. The study (in the journal Child Development) contradicts earlier U.S. research that found a correlation between the time a child spends in daycare and he or she having behavioral issues. The new study’s findings are good news for parents, and especially mothers, who have felt any guilt about working rather than staying home with their kids.
Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, Boston College, Harvard Medical School and the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Massachusetts authored the study. Due to having information about 75,000 children, they were able to compare children from the same families who had spent different amounts of time in daycare. What the researchers found was that siblings who had spent more time in daycare did not have more behavior problems than those who had done so for shorter periods of time.
Earlier studies conducted in the U.S. had taken a different approach, instead comparing different children from different families who spent varying amounts of time in daycare as a result of family choices. This approach left open “the possibility that differences between families in areas other than child care choices [such as income and education, mental health and intelligence] are, in fact, the true causes of behavior problems,” says a report on Science Daily.
For myself, I was grateful that my now-teenage son Charlie was in daycare when he was a toddler. My cousins had all had relatives take care of their young children. I probably would have done the same, except that my husband and I were living in the Midwest when Charlie was born, far from my family in California.
As it turned out, being in daycare was to Charlie’s benefit. The daycare teachers could tell that he was not developing as the other children were and suspected that he was autistic; as a result — while it was not easy hearing such news about a child who was just over a year and a half! — Charlie was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old and started to receive much-needed educational and other therapies at a young age. If he had been taken care of by my well-meaning relatives, it’s likely they would have shrugged off his lack of speech and repetitive play as things he would grow out of.
The researchers behind the new study plan to continue their work and look at what happens to Norwegian children as they enter later childhood and adolescence as (in the U.S.) the effects of child care can still have an effect at those ages. Researchers also want to look at children in daycare in countries besides the U.S. “to determine the child and family policy environments in which child care does or does not appear to put children at risk.” Unlike the U.S., Norway has national standards and regulations for child care and these have been thought to lead to higher quality care.
Besides lacking such guidelines, the U.S. also has far less generous parental leave policies than Norway, where it is possible for most parents to stay at home with a child until he or she is about a year old. If the U.S. did have policies in place that made it possible and not punitive to care for young children, daycare might not be so quickly singled out as the reason a child is having trouble.
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