On the Fence About Day Care? New Study Reassures Working Moms

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By Anisa Arsenault, Associate Editor
Updated March 2, 2017
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Maternity leave is coming to an end. It’s time to think about what’s next for baby: Are you staying home? Hiring a nanny? Or leaving him to fend for himself in the scary world of (gasp) daycare?

A new study from the Association for Psychological Science is aiming to quell parental concerns about any behavioral issues that might result from day care. And after following nearly 1,000 kids who spent years in day care, the results are in: It has little impact on aggressive behavior (in spite of recent reports of fight clubs breaking out at day care).

The day care question has been haunting parents since the 1980s, when greater numbers of women began entering the workforce. Some child development researchers began reporting that day care wasn’t conducive to a child’s social and emotional adjustment; other researchers disagreed. Parents were left with conflicting information for making their childcare decisions. So Boston College psychological scientist Eric Dearing decided to take a more comprehensive look.

Dearing teamed up with colleagues from the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development to trace 939 Norwegian children through years of day care, interviewing parents about child behavior at 6 months, ages 1, 2, 3 and 4.

“At age 2, there was some evidence of small effects of early, extensive and continuous care on aggression,” lead study author Eric Dearing says. “Yet, by age 4 — when these children had been in child care for two additional years — there were no measurable effects of child care in any of our statistical models. This is the opposite of what one would expect if continuous care was risky for young children.”

The number of years spent in day care and exposed to other children without their parents being present, the better. “One surprising finding was that the longer children were in non-parental care, the smaller the effects on aggression became,” Dearing explains.

And no, these results are not intended to make you sad. “From a public perspective, our findings are important because they should help ease parents’ fears about the potential harms of early non-parental child care,” says Dearing.

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