Family, Kids & Relationships

New study relieves parents’ worries about daycare and child behavior

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Many parents worry about the impacts that daycare can have on their kids’ development and behavior — but the results of a new study are reassuring parents that daycare may not actually cause the negative behavioral effects that many are concerned about.  

Some common worries parents have about daycare include potentially negative emotional effects from a child being separated from their primary caregivers for long periods of time, and behavioral issues arising from conflicts with peers or teachers, or (undesirable) learned behaviors from playmates. 

What did the study reveal?

The study, published in Child Development, showed that children who spent long hours in daycare centers weren’t any more likely to become hitters, biters, hair pullers or bullies. Researchers looked at data from seven different studies including more than 10,000 toddlers and preschoolers across five countries.

Results revealed that kids who spent more time in group child care settings were no more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior than other children. The aggressive behaviors they looked for included hitting, kicking, biting, fighting or bullying.

What have other studies said?

This new research joins a growing — and mixed — body of research about the impacts of daycare on child development and behavior. Some previous studies have shown results which contradict those of this most recent report.

One 2019 report on Quebec’s universal preschool program found that children in participating child care programs had higher rates of aggression than other kids. Another study from 2007 of children in the United States found that more time in daycare was linked to teacher-reported problem behavior later in elementary school.  

Still, other past studies have shown similar results to the new research, including one from 2004 that demonstrated a stronger likelihood for aggression in kids who were cared for at home compared with kids in a group child care setting. These mixed results could be due to variation in daycare quality, or other important aspects of the participants’ circumstances. 

What does all of this mean for parents?

It’s already so difficult for parents to navigate the complex decisions that come along with securing safe, reliable, and enriching child care — without conflicting scientific studies to think about. Parents can take reassurance, though, from the fact that the research is trending in a direction that supports the stance that daycare does not cause harmful behavioral impacts. 

One important thing for parents to remember, however, is that not all daycare is created equal. Balancing the cost, convenience, and quality of your child’s daycare can come with some big trade-offs. According to Dr. Shawna Newman, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, there are a few key things parents can look for in a child care center:

  • A welcoming staff and environment;
  • Educationally enriching activities and age-appropriate developmental learning opportunities;
  • Social and emotional support for the kids;
  • A regular schedule for the children, including snack time, story time, nap time and circle time;
  • Clean facilities.

You can also review these helpful questions to ask a babysitter or child care provider to ensure a great fit with your family.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.