As long as there are parents, there will be a lively (albeit sometimes heated) debate over whether to send our kids to daycare versus keeping them at home. And while there are a million different considerations that go into this decision (money, ability, desire, opportunity), once we finally make the decision, we often spend a lot of unnecessary time worrying about the perceived consequences.
Well, for those of us who do decide to send our kids to daycare, a new study is providing a bit of good news: Researchers found that children who attend daycare before the age of 3 tend to be more well behaved than children who don’t.
Published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, the “Early Childcare Type Predicts Children’s Emotional and Behavioural Trajectories Into Middle Childhood” study tracked the emotional well-being and development of 1,428 children in France from birth until age 8. In the end, they found that children who attended daycare had a “lower likelihood of having high levels of emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, and low prosocial behaviors.”
During the study, parents filled out several surveys about their child’s well-being, including any difficulties they may have had making friends, hyperactivity/inattention, conduct, social skills, and what type of childcare they were receiving (up through age 3).
Not only did researchers find that kids behaved better and were more well-adjusted emotionally if they attended daycare, but it also had a long-term, positive effect on their development throughout their lives.
“Access to high-quality childcare in the first years of life may improve children’s emotional and cognitive development, prevent later emotional difficulties, and promote prosocial behaviors,” said Dr. Maria Melchior, one of the study’s authors.
All three of my kids attended daycare and, in my experience, it was a great decision for all of them. I feel like it gave them the structure they needed in an environment that promoted empathy and organization. What’s more, I believe it helped teach them that they aren’t the center of the universe, which improved how they behaved out in the world.
According to the study, children who attended daycare for a year or more seemed to fare even better and had an even lower risk for emotional issues and increased social skills. Daycare, at least for this population, seemed to serve to “prevent children’s emotional difficulties and help develop their psychosocial skills over the long term.”
Obviously, there are a number of factors to consider which could skew these findings — and every child and circumstance is different. Plus, let’s not forget that there’s still plenty of research out there to support the notion that stay-at-home parents offer young kids many benefits, too. (In fact, a 2014 study found that even older kids in middle and high school can benefit from having parents at home.)
But overall, researchers believe the results may be in part because of the cognitive encouragement found through play, increased opportunities for socialization, a rules-based setting which can increase self-esteem, and the overall responsiveness and sensitivity that quality caregivers can promote.
At the end of the day, we parents play a critical role in helping shape how our children behave; but we’re not the only ones who do. With more and more mothers heading back to work after having kids and ultimately turning to daycare, it’s nice to know that there’s positive research out there to support our decision.
In other words: The kids are going to be alright.