While parents are usually the best caregivers for their children, circumstances often necessitate that some parents seek part-time or full-time day care services. Parents should carefully choose the most appropriate day care provider based on their child’s age and individual needs. Since a day care provider steps into a “substitute caregiver” role, she will inadvertently affect a child’s development. Factors such as the amount of time a child spends in day care, the provider’s investment in the child’s care beyond merely “babysitting” and the overall quality of care will determine whether those effects on the child’s development are positive or negative.

Attachment and Emotional Development

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) conducted a comprehensive study between 1991 to 2007 observing and recording the effects of day care on over 1,000 preschool age children. The “Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development,” or SECCYD, revealed key areas of child development influenced by day care providers and experiences.

Some young children, when left with a day care provider, exhibited a range of negative emotions and behaviors including crying and clinging to parents, screaming or hiding from the provider after the parents have left. Such children frequently developed insecure attachment issues and separation anxiety 2. Other children adjusted more readily and eagerly joined their peers, barely acknowledging their parents’ departure. These children demonstrated more security, less separation anxiety and greater preparedness for eventually entering school 2.

Behavioral Ups and Downs

Day care environments sometimes contributed toward children developing negative behavioral issues, including aggression and noncompliance, simply by virtue of many different children spending substantial time together, separated from their parents. The National Academies reported findings from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that demonstrated a connection between children’s poor behavior and the amount of time spent in day care settings. According to the NIH study, elementary school teachers reported that students who regularly spent ten or more hours per week in day care tended to be more argumentative, disobedient and unruly in class.

Conversely, higher quality care dictated more optimistic outcomes. Attentive, stimulating day care environments produced children who were overall more cooperative and positive in their interactions with caregivers, peers and parents.

Cognitive and Language Development

One striking result of the SECCYD was that children in a structured day care setting tended to have higher cognitive functioning and a larger vocabulary, which enhanced their language development. The NIH study reported that children who spent moderate weekly time in nurturing day care environments attained higher vocabulary scores upon entering school.

Social Growth

In the SECCYD, children in day care settings demonstrated a greater ability to form relationships with peers and adults, than children who did not attend day care. Ironically, children in day care exhibited more positive interactions with their mothers than did children in other settings.

A Few Health Concerns

The SECCYD revealed that children’s exposure to multiple incidences of common illnesses, as well as communicable diseases, presented a concern in day care settings. The greater amount of time children spent in day care, the more likely they were to contract stomach and intestinal illnesses and upper respiratory and ear infections.