Day-care centers breed misbehavior

The more time a child spends in a day-care center the more likely the child will misbehave in class, according to a long-term study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Children who’ve spent more than a year in center-based care are more aggressive and disobedient than children cared for by parents, other relatives, family child-care homes or nannies, concludes the study. The effect persists through sixth grade “regardless of the child’s sex or family income, and regardless of the quality of the day care center,” reports the New York Times. Center grads aren’t that much rowdier, researchers say, but even minor misbehavior can have a cumulative effect.

With more than two million American preschoolers attending day care, the increased disruptiveness very likely contributes to the load on teachers who must manage large classrooms, the authors argue.

Most young children are cared for by parents, relatives or babysitters, but it’s estimated 24 percent attend a day-care center or preschool. The number is rising.

“I have accused the study authors of doing everything they could to make this negative finding go away, but they couldn’t do it,” said Sharon Landesman Ramey, director of the Georgetown University Center on Health and Education. “They knew this would be disturbing news for parents, but at some point, if that’s what you’re finding, then you have to report it.”

High-quality child care increases vocabulary, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Children who experience high-quality child care — whether in child-care centers or family child-care homes, or with sitters or nannies — have better vocabulary skills through fifth grade than children who get lower-quality care. However, math and reading gains, seen at younger ages in children who had spent time in high-quality care setups, didn’t last past first grade. High-quality care is defined as care by an engaged, responsive adult or adults in a rich, nurturing setting.

Earlier studies found similar results but this is the first to track child-care effects all the way through sixth grade. Researchers will continue to follow children through school and possibly into their 20s.

By the way, Early Stories provides useful links on testing Head Start’s effectiveness.

Update: The Onion has more on the issue.

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  1. BadaBing says:

    I’ve always wondered why adults have children if others are going to raise them.

  2. I’m disappointed in this post.

    You fell for the headline, rather than the substance:

    However, the researchers cautioned that the increase in vocabulary and problem behaviors was small, and that parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care.

    The children studied were not a representative sample of children in the U.S. population.

    It also appears that the study wasn’t “blinded” — the reporters (the teachers) knew which children had been in childcare and which hadn’t. In other words, observer bias was in play.

  3. Oh, and I read more carefully: correlation is not causation:

    he study authors suggested that the correlation between center care and problem behaviors

  4. I agree with Liz, partly from her analysis of the study parameters and partly because my two kids are in daycare and I can see the results firsthand. Our now-3-year old started daycare at age 1 and the results were tremendously positive. She learned intellectual and motor skills by osmosis from being around other 1-year olds that she would have never gotten from us.

    Now that she’s 3, we do see a marked increase in misbehavior around the house, and she is bringing home some bad behavior that she gets from other kids at her daycare. But, you know what? I think that has something to do with the fact that she is 3. You might as well just say that putting kids around other kids increases their chances for misbehavior. It gives my wife and me plenty of opportunities to teach her a life lesson that a lot of kids never get: That just because your friends at school are doing X, it doesn’t mean it’s right, and you need to do the right thing.

    Badabing: Note that it is possible to both raise your kids AND send them to daycare.

  5. While the study didn’t assign children to a day-care center group and a control group, it was blinded: Elementary teachers didn’t know which students had gone to day-care centers years earlier.

    Family day-care homes didn’t raise the likelihood of behavior problems, suggesting that size matters. In center-based care, there are more children and perhaps more need for a child to be assertive. Remember that high-quality centers did no better on behavior than low-quality centers.

    Certainly, parents have enormous influence, while the negative effects of center care are small. But an elementary teacher with a class of students to manage may find it significantly harder if more students are even slightly more disruptive.

  6. Disappointed by the bias here. Also from the article;

    “The effect was slight, and well within the normal range for healthy children, the researchers found”

    This article is a perfect example of sensationalism and crying wolf. It is also made clear that the quality of the daycare is a very large factor. In fact, the report states that there are benefits in socialization and early language development in (day care) center kids. The report goes on to say that the single biggest factor in the behavior of a child is the experience they get at home.

  7. I agree with Badabing, if parents are too selfish to stay home and raise their children why do they have them? Parenting takes lots of time, not just quality time, but quantity time. No day care center or baby sitter can do what a child’s parents can do, or should do. A parent has the responsibility to teach their children not only scholastic information but values and virtues about the world they live in. This takes all day, every day, watching “mommy and daddy” and modeling how they live. How they react to the world and the people around them. Children need to feel secure and nutured, loved and respected, admired and part of a family unit. No day care is going to do that for them. Rationalizations are rampant in today’s world parents, but time will tell all. Don’t blame the outcome on your children, it’s your responsibility. You brought these children into the world. Grow up and deal with it.


  1. […] Bazelon on Slate. Taking a closer look at the long-term study of day-care effects, she finds more misbehavior only for children who spent more than a few years in child-care centers. When I reached the […]