It's a familiar scene: a parent drops off a screaming child at daycare only to walk away and feel addled with guilt all day long. Not only does the parent worry that their child is traumatised by the separation, but there's also the concern that daycare could expose them to social and physical ills.
But working parents can shake off their guilt now, thanks to a French study that found kids who go to centre-based daycare are better behaved and more cognitively advanced than their peers who stay at home with a parent or caregiver.
Babies - 0 to 18 months
Babies thrive in situations where they have a lot of one-on-one attention from a single caregiver, and home-based care is great at this stage. However, child care centres can work well if there are a small number of babies per carer, allowing the carer to respond quickly to the babies needs.
Continuity of care is the most important aspect at this stage. Babies need time to develop an attachment to and trust in their carer. Babies also need a clean and safe environment as they start to explore the world around them.
Toddler - 18 months to 3 years
Babies and young toddlers have similar needs when it comes to child care. Toddlers respond well to the low carer to child ratios and require carers with lots of patience and energy. However, this is when children begin to test their limits, and they need carers who can help them understand the parameters of the world they live in.
Toddlers are extremely active and need a safe environment that allows them to explore while limiting the potential for bumps and bruises. Home-based care, such as nannies and au pairs, are excellent for children at this age. Child care centres and family daycare with the low carer to child ratios and good staff retention can work well too.
Another benefit of centre and family daycare for children at this age is that they offer toddlers a chance to socialise with other youngsters and offer them the opportunity to participate in activities they might not be able to do at home.
Preschoolers - 3 to 5 years
The advantage of putting preschoolers in centre-based care is that it allows them to practice their language and learn social skills. In addition, three to five-year-old children are keen to build peer relationships and play with their friends.
A quality child care centre can be very beneficial in helping children at this age learn many early skills and provide children with the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities they might not be able to do at home.
Home-based care is also great for preschoolers, provided they have access to age-appropriate resources and games and have frequent contact with other children their age. An in-home carer can supplement care with community activities at a local library or park, playgroups, or other group activities like swimming lessons.
Benefits of Daycare for Young Children
Regular Schedule and Activities
Even young children have a schedule at daycare. Although they might not be aware of the ticking clock, children are provided with a full slate of activities that include songs and storytelling. For toddlers, these fun tasks are essential to their intellectual growth and development. The scheduled activities are also satisfying for parents, who have less worry that their toddler's behaviour will be erratic at the end of the day due to a lack of structured times for eating, playing and napping.
An extensive study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that young children had higher cognitive and academic achievement scores as teens if they spent time in high-quality daycare as young children. Of the more than 1,300 children studied, over 90 per cent had been in the care of someone other than a parent before the age of 4. The study defined "high-quality" daycare as facilities that provide extensive interaction with care providers, support, and cognitive-boosting activities.
Time With Peers
Stay-at-home parents value the regular play dates they arrange with families and neighbours with kids of a similar age. Daycare interaction extends this phenomenon, where kids get to spend time around one another in a supervised, structured and safe environment. As a result, kids learn how to problem-solve, share and otherwise play and learn well together while their minds are still growing and personalities still emerging.
Interaction With Other Adults
When children are very young, they learn about adults mostly from their parents and senior members of their families. Daycare provides an opportunity for children to see other adults as mentors and authority figures to provide positive guidance. A 2006 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found that high-quality daycare was directly connected to quality caregiving. Specifically, adult care providers respond to children's vocalisations, encourage, show a positive attitude and discourage negative interactions in the daycare environment.
Smoother Transition to Kindergarten
A study at the University of Texas at Austin found that parents who enrolled their children in daycare were more involved in school life as their kids got older. This choice benefited not only the parents, who had greater involvement in their children's structured academic life but the youngsters themselves. In addition, after going to daycare, kids found it easier to adjust to formal schooling.
Social and Economic Benefits for Parents
Dropping your child at daycare can seem like a rushed, often anxiety-provoking experience. Even if you have done your research and are actively engaged in learning about the daycare's staff, credentials and day-to-day operations, you are still leaving your precious child with a group of strangers. In addition, you may have little to no interaction with people who are sharing your experience: other parents. However, a recent study showed that even a small amount of time with other parents provides immense benefit.
The University of Chicago found that those few moments parents spent engaging in talk while dropping off their children provided immense long-term benefits. The parents gained "social capital," which might also be thought of as a feeling of community. Parents had markedly lower rates of depression and experienced less financial hardship over the long term. Simply knowing the parents of other children increased the level of trust parents had in the institution. Daycares were especially beneficial in low-income neighbourhoods, where the centres were used as a kind of pipeline for government support services.
Clinical psychologist Francine Lederer stated that some women who are financially able to stay at home might choose to go back to work for their mental health. While this decision may seem counter-intuitive, it may be what's best for the baby. According to Lederer, women who don't work can suffer from depression, harming their children. But, on the other hand, if mom is happier working and children thrive in a high-quality daycare, the placement may be best for everyone.
Other things that affect children's feelings about starting a child care
There are a few other things that affect the way your child might feel about and respond to starting child care:
- Trusting, caring relationships with your child's educators: these relationships help your child respond well to child care.
- The child care setting: your child might feel more comfortable if the setting is like other places your child is familiar with.
- Your child's experiences of being cared for outside your immediate family: these experiences give your child practice in building relationships and help your child learn that you'll always come back.
- Your child's temperament: this affects the way your child responds to changes, including changes like a new child care setting.
- Your child's personal preferences: for example, your child might feel more comfortable if the setting's routines are a good fit for the way your child likes to be fed, comforted and soothed.
- Your child's age and stage of development: for example, babies younger than 6 months are often happy to be left with educators because they haven't yet developed separation anxiety or fear of strangers.
- The number of days your child is in care: children attending fewer days a week have less time to get familiar with and comfortable in their new setting.
How can a daycare assist you in your child's development?
Each child is assigned one caretaker at the daycare, especially if very young, who caters to their individual needs. The child is involved in activities like block building or music, as per their age and interest, and fed and put to sleep during their nap time. Parents provide the food since paediatricians suggest that infants should only be fed from one particular source to develop immunity. We also give suggestions on what a child should be fed as per their age. At the age of 15 months, however, we start providing food at the daycare itself. Thus, we have a full-fledged house kitchen.
Children at the daycare are not forced to follow a schedule. Instead, the idea is to keep the day engaging and interactive. "Daycare could be a great place to help your little one interact with a lot of other children. And that's much more preferable than giving them an electronic gadget like a mobile. Empathy and social development are the key things a child is introduced to in a daycare. It also helps such kids start speaking very early since they are constantly talking to each other.
The maximum age up to which most daycare centres take children is six or seven. That's when the child starts going to primary school and is usually enrolled in other activity classes. Some of them, however, continue to stay beyond that age. "For instance, we have a child, who joined our daycare at the age of one, and now, she is almost 10. It's such a close relationship you form with the child and also with their parents. It's hard to part with them. They are like family.
Is a daycare safe enough?
One of the major concerns for parents when choosing a daycare is safety. After all, the child is left in the care of unfamiliar people, away from the parents, for a long duration. To begin with, when an infant is kept in a closed room and many other children, they are more at risk of being infected. So, the design of the daycare is important–it should have a large play area with enough sunlight and fresh air. Some daycares follow international specifications and regulations, which ensure the same. That's something parents must check on. On the obverse, more exposure to germs would mean your child can develop immunity. Nobody would want their child to fall sick, of course, and so, they ideally have to be immunised before being sent to daycare.
Besides health, children can also be at risk of abuse, so parents have to be very careful and choose the right daycare for their child after thorough research. "Most parents come to us through recommendations. Coming to the safety aspect, we haven't encountered any such incident to date. We've been lucky that way. All parents would want to be assured of their child's safety. We provide parents with daily updates, sometimes even at lunchtime, and parents can call and speak to the child whenever they want.
Are you ready for a daycare?
No matter how perfect a daycare might be, leaving behind an infant in an unknown space is not easy, either for the child's parents. Parents tend to worry constantly while the child is unaware of why they have been separated from the parents. And that's why parents need to be prepared mentally to leave their children behind. "A lot of parents find this transition difficult, for which they should consult experts. Many daycares also have a separation anxiety workshop to understand how to deal with it. The child also has to be dealt with delicately by well-trained staff members at the daycare, or it will impact them badly.
When is best?
Choosing the best time to participate in group activities or put your child in care will depend on their personality as well as your family's work schedule. There is no perfect age, and each child will adjust to the care environment differently.
You know your child's personality better than anyone else – consider the following questions as you go about choosing when to put your child in care:
- Is your child confident with new people and quick to make new friends?
- Do they adjust well to new and unfamiliar environments?
- Is your child easily overwhelmed by noise and activity?
- Is your child a physically active little person who wants to participate in everything or more of an observer?
When thinking about care for children under five, think about group size and the level of stimulation. Ideally, the younger the child, the smaller the group should be to moderate noise and activity levels.
Think about the consistency of the group – if your child's care environment is comprised of carers and children who are the same week after week, it will enable your child to develop lasting friendships and relationships and a comfortable foundation for personal development. Conversely, children in less stable care environments spend more time meeting new people than building lasting relationships.
Even if you are a full-time stay at home parent, it can be helpful for children to gain experience in a group care environment before they start school. Hence, they are comfortable being looked after by adults other than their parents.
Remember that there is no such thing as the perfect age to put your child in care as it varies for everyone. Try and relax into your decision, and your positive approach will have a great effect on your child.
Being in child care, cared for by an adult who is not the parent, does not need to be associated with less–than–optimal development in young children. On the contrary, it may be associated with enhanced development or even be a compensatory factor.
However, to enhance the development or serve a protective function, child care must be sufficiently high quality. High-quality child care goes beyond being a safe place for children to include nurturing relationships and stimulating environments that organise and scaffold children's learning. Whether or not a child experiences high‑quality child care depends partly on the material and social resources of families.
High‑quality child care is in short supply, accounting for perhaps 10%–15% of all available care. But it should be noted that the quality of child care is not confounded with a form of care — children can experience high-quality child care in various settings. Nonetheless, there is very little information on the concurrent and longitudinal consequences for children who experience very informal child care of low quality in combination with family poverty and mothers whose sensitivity may be impaired by their difficult working conditions.
While choosing daycare may be a heart-pounding option for many parents, there are clear evidence children will benefit over the long term. Finding a quality daycare centre where children are supported, engaged, encouraged and exposed to a positive attitude can help babies and toddlers set the groundwork for later intellectual strides. In addition, as kids learn to problem-solve and interact positively with other kids and adults, their parents can get to know one another and increase the social capital they hold in their community.
Regarding cognitive development, studies have found negative effects, no significant links, and positive daycare effects. Research has shown that daycare hinders the quality of parent-child relations, does not hinder it, that the adverse effects are small and transitory, or intermittent.
Why is daycare good for babies? The growth and development that occurs in the first few years of your baby's life are significant. From ages 0 to 2 months, your baby is setting the foundation for their sense of security and safety. Daycare will offer plenty of opportunities to support this growth.
Starting daycare can be a stressful time, for both babies and parents alike. Some babies will adapt quickly, while others will cry every morning for many weeks.