Is Daycare Contagious?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
By Wray Herbert
My kids are all grown now, but way back when the first was born, there was a furious controversy brewing over the risks of putting young children into daycare outside the home. It was a highly personal clash, over fundamental values like self-sacrifice and good parenting. Some mothers (and even a few fathers) actually quit their day jobs and very publicly seized the moral high ground, while those of us with little choice in the matter hoped privately that we were not doing irreparable harm to our toddlers’ emotional well being.
There was very little comforting scientific evidence back then, neither for guilty parents nor for the sanctimonious. But there have been a lot of studies done since, and the results are almost always mixed. It appears that kids who are taken care of by strangers at an earlier age, and remain in their care longer, are indeed more aggressive and disobedient when they finally reach kindergarten. But here’s the rub: Daycare veterans also seem to be better prepared for formal schooling when they finally show up at the schoolhouse door. They have better language and thinking skills on balance.
So, is it a devil’s bargain? Do young parents of today have to choose between their offspring’s academic achievement and their emotional adjustment?
Well, that may be the wrong question as it turns out. A team of psychologists finally thought to ask what may seem like an obvious question: What happens when all the kids, with different early childhood experiences, finally reach school age, and are grouped together in their first kindergarten classes? Do the emotional and academic differences persist? Or do the stay-at-home rugrats take on the traits of their more worldly counterparts? Put another way: Are the consequences of daycare contagious?
Julia Dmitrieva and Laurence Steinberg of Temple University and Jay Belsky of London’s Birkbeck University decided to explore this question scientifically. They studied a huge sample of kindergartners, more than 3400 in almost 300 classrooms, over a year, keeping track of how much they argued and fought with other kids, as well as displays of anger and impulsivity. They also measured their academic competence, in reading and math and so forth.
When the psychologists looked closely at the kids who had logged little or no hours in daycare, the findings were interesting and clear. As reported in the December issue of the journal Psychological Science, by the end of the kindergarten year these kids were basically the same as the kids with lots of daycare experience, for better and worse. That is, they caused just as many problems in the classroom, and they were equally worthy students.
What does this mean? Well, nearly two of every three American children today get some of their care giving from strangers, usually beginning before their first birthday. That means that thousands of classrooms all over the country, and all the children schooled in them, are affected by daycare, no matter what choice a parent makes for his own child. Whether that is a relief or a disappointment probably has more to do with the parent than the child.
For more insights into human nature, visit "We're Only Human . . ."
posted by Wray Herbert @ 12:27 PM