A new study which was published in Psychological Science showed that the time children spent in daycare did not influence their aggressive behavior. The study looked at nearly 1,000 Norwegian children that were enrolled in daycare, and it showed that aggression did not increase in the children who spent time in daycare, although there was some aggression in children who were under a year old that began daycare.
The results of the study are huge because a lot of parents have trouble deciding on whether or not to send their child to daycare due to the risk of their children developing aggression, but this study should ease some of those concerns about the harm of daycare. The lead author of the study was Eric Dearing, who is a psychological scientist at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. Back in the 1980s when women really began entering the workplace, a child development researcher put out the notion that daycare was harmful to children in terms of emotional adjustment and social adjustment. This researcher ended up causing anxiety and panic for a lot of women and families, and also led to a lot of debate among researchers about the role daycare and non-parental child care had on a child, with some even suggesting that these children became more aggressive. There have been over 30 years of follow up studies which also have put fuel on the fire, with some saying that attending day care for long hours leads to high levels of problems with behavior, meaning elevated aggression. Other studies though have shown no risk associated with daycare, so it’s really been hard to find meaningful studies since they are all coming to different conclusions about the impact of daycare on children.
Norway has a very interesting way of getting real results from this study because in Norway, parents can leave up to a year, which means that children who are in Norway usually don’t start daycare until after 9 months of age. Children often enter at different ages too because publicly funded day care centers start enrollment in August. Often times it depends on the child’s birthday as to when they will start daycare, so a child might end up there at 12 months or if they had a winter birthday it would be around 18 months before they were able to attend. This basically is a natural randomization, so the researchers used the child’s birth month instead of parental preference as to when the children would start daycare. The assistants interviewed parents of 939 children who were about to send their 6 month old, 1, 2, 3 and 4 year old to day care. The child’s teacher then reported aggressive behaviors every year, such as hitting or pushing, and even biting. The study found that the longer the children were in the non-parental care, the less impact aggression had on them.
This means that the 2 year old had higher aggression levels if they entered at earlier ages than compared to the children who entered later on. No matter how much time the child spent in the daycare, the differences in physical aggression levels did lessen over time. By the time the 2-year-old had turned 4, they noticed that there were no measurable effects when it came to how child care played into aggression, which is not what someone would think if that child had spent about 2 or 3 years in daycare. This study is suggesting that it’s possible the early non-parental care does impact aggression levels, which means you might want to wait until your child is around a year old before enrolling them into a daycare program. If you put your child into a high-quality day care after one year, then it’s also more likely that aggression will end up not being a factor. The study is showing that it does not seem to be the length of time that the child is in daycare, but more when the daycare begins, and this is why it’s even more important that the mother stay with the child for the first year of life, because the non-parental care could be doing more harm in terms of enabling aggression than anything else. While it’s understandable not every parent can be with their child all of the time during the first year, researchers say that you should make it important in your life to at least spend the first 8 or 9 months mostly at home with your child, and then you can put them into daycare as much as you need to after this crucial part in their lives. When you think about aggression in children, you have to begin thinking about what is going on at home and the possible situations the child might be dealing with, such as an alcoholic or abusive parent, which is more damaging to the child than spending a few hours in day care everyday. You also have to ensure that your child knows boundaries and how to share, which are things that through time at daycare can be taught, and this also might be why the younger children under 1 have aggression issues. The longer the child is in daycare the more willing they are to share and the more developed their social skills are. You have to begin looking at starting off right at home before you can find fault with the situations outside of the home. Overall this study is showing that parents don’t have to worry that much about the impact of daycare, although definitely they need to ensure the daycare is safe and that all teachers are properly accredited before leaving their child in that environment.