Could time in ECEC have an effect on children’s behaviour? Researchers say yes
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Could time in ECEC have an effect on children’s behaviour? Researchers say yes

Could time in ECEC have an effect on children’s behaviour? Researchers say yes

by Freya Lucas

March 16, 2022

Children who spend more time in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings than at home are more likely to exhibit “problematic behaviours” researchers from the University of Zurich have found


To reach their findings, the researchers surveyed approximately 1,300 Zurich school children, their parents and teachers, noting that although ECEC attendees display these behaviours more often, they generally disappear at the end of primary school.


The Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development at the University of Zurich conducted the study to examine how external childcare influences the development of children into young adulthood as part of the Zurich Project on the Social Development from Childhood into Adulthood (z-proso).


Around 67 per cent of the children in the survey received external childcare before entering kindergarten. 32 per cent of these children attended a daycare center, and 22 per cent a playgroup. Another 22 per cent received care from an external family member, 3 per cent from acquaintances or neighbors, and 12 per cent from daycare mothers (known as family day care in Australia) 


The researchers asked the children as well as their parents and teachers about externalizing or internalizing behaviour problems, delinquency and substance use. The survey showed that the observed behaviors in primary school-aged children differed depending on the respondents and the type of external daycare.


According to the parents, primary school pupils were more likely to show aggression, display symptoms of ADHD, and experience anxiety and depression the more time they had spent in a daycare center before entering school. This finding was also supported by some of the children’s own assessments. 


According to the teachers, hyperactivity, lack of impulse control, inattention or aggression were more likely to occur in school children who had spent more than two days a week with a daycare mother or at least three days a week in a playgroup.


Peer modeling or weaker attachment?


“It’s possible that external childcare may lessen the strength of child-parent attachment and interaction,” first author Margit Averdijk said, “but it is also possible that children in center-based care or playgroups learn problem behavior from their peers and sometimes use it to get attention from caregivers.”


“Although we can’t directly check which of these mechanisms is the most likely explanation for our results, both of them support our findings,” she continued. 


“The good news is that the problematic behavior observed in primary school-aged children decreases as the children get older and mostly disappears from the age of 13. Symptoms of ADHD were the only ones to persist into adolescence.”


No general link to substance use in adolescents


Moreover, the researchers found no evidence that generally links external childcare settings to delinquency and substance use in adolescents. An exception was the link between daycare attendance and substance use, which persisted into young adulthood for those from vulnerable backgrounds. “Our study indicates that these children are also more likely to experience anxiety or depression as they grow older, which may become more acute as a result of the parents’ absence,” Ms Averdijk explained.


Interpret with caution


“Our study sheds light on some possible unfavorable links between external childcare and children’s later development,” fellow author Manuel Eisner added. Despite this, he urged readers of the work to “not to jump to conclusions.” 


“While the study meets the highest scientific standards, it is based on observational data and surveys that do not always allow clear conclusions to be drawn about causation,” he said.


 Furthermore, the study was not able to take into account the quality of childcare received outside of the family. 


To access the study please see here. 

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