Study confirms children attending childcare more psychologically robust
Children who attend a childcare environment staffed by professionals may have better psychological development than those children who are looked after by family and friends, or in other informal arrangements, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health has found.
Attending childcare may be associated with lower instances of poor social skills, difficult peer relationships, and behavioural issues, with the effect being strongest if children are attending for a year or more, the findings indicate.
Previous studies have shown that attending childcare can boost language and thinking skills, and possibly add to academic success, but until now, there has been little evidence that attending childcare impacts positively on behaviour.
Researchers conducting the study looked at data for 1,428 children who were taking part in a French study which was looking at the factors involved in childhood health and development.
In France, formal childcare is widespread, of high quality, and open to all. Most children (over 95 per cent) in France enter formal childcare by age 3, which the researchers believe makes France a good setting to look at the impact of different types of early childcare on overall development.
Using responses to a strengths and difficulties questionnaire, researchers tracked children’s emotional development from birth to age eight, with parents completing a survey about their child at ages three, five years and six months, and eight years of age.
The questionnaire included 25 items, which focused on behavioural and emotional problems, including challenges in making friends, hyperactivity, inattention, conduct and social skills.
When the children were four, eight and twelve months old, and again at two and three years old, parents were asked about what type of childcare they had used prior to age three. The categories were formal (nursery, day care centre or creche staffed by professionals) informal (care provided by family and friends) or childminder (babysitting)
636 children (44.5 per cent) had been in the care of a child minder; nearly one in four (367, 26 percent) had attended formal care; and a third (425, 29 percent) had been cared for by family and friends.
Of the 1428 children studied, 15 per cent had persistently high levels of conduct problems,; just over 15 per cent of children were considered hyperactive, or to have low attention spans; 16 per cent had emotional issues; 6 per cent found it difficult to make friends with peers; and 13 per cent had poor social skills.
On analysing the data, those who received formal care were less likely to have emotional and behavioral problems than those who had been looked after by family and friends, with the formal childcare cohort reported to also have better social skills. The children who were looked after by a child minder were the most likely to have behavioural issues.
Children who attended formal care for a year or more had the lowest incidences of emotional issues, difficulty making friends, and poor social skills. The situation of parents also played a part in determining outcomes for children, with children whose mothers had gone to college or university, and who weren’t depressed seeming to benefit the most from formal childcare.
The research also showed that female children fared better than male children in formal care with the researchers hypothesizing that this may be because formal childcare is associated with less internalising behaviour, which is more common in female children.
When compared with those receiving informal care, boys who attended formal care had fewer emotional problems, with boys who were looked after by a child minder showing the highest incidence of behavioural problems.
In publishing the results, the researchers noted the study was observational, and as such, could not establish cause. Researchers also noted that the demographic of the families surveyed – more educated and affluent than the average for France – should be noted when assessing the results.
Notwithstanding the above the research suggested that overall, the low levels of emotional symptoms, relationship issues, hyperactivity/inattention observed among children who had attended formal care may reflect a combination of the mental stimulus delivered from play, praise and reading, along with structured rules and quality interactions with a caregiver.
Calling for further research on the topic, the researchers concluded by saying “Access to high quality child care in the first years of life may improve children’s emotional and cognitive development, prevent later emotional difficulties, and promote prosocial behaviours”