The Effects of Day Care on an Infant's Psychosocial Development

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2011 that half of mothers with infants in the U.S. work. Unless Grandma lives down the block or you work from home, that often means day care for little Johnny. With the vast number of babies in child care centers, families and communities need to know how day care affects the psychosocial development of their children 2. Researchers have been working hard to provide answers.

Parenting Trumps Child Care

In a 2005 article in "The New York Times," University of Washington researcher Cathryn Booth-LaForce summed up the results of recent studies on the effects of child care by saying, "Virtually across the board, the effects of parenting are greater than the effects of child care ..." While the decision to put your infant in day care will affect her, your home environment, emotional attachment, level of education and relationship with your child will play a far larger role in her long-term development 12.

The Research

Much of what we know about the psychosocial development of infants in day care comes from a long-term National Institutes of Child Health and Development study of more than 1,000 children that began in 1991 24. Researchers tracked the children, who were cared for in a variety of ways starting at birth, and analyzed their development in various areas as they matured. In 2007, researchers reported that overall, children who attended day care and kids who stayed home with mom or were in another type of care all developed similarly.

Psychosocial Pros and Cons

The researchers also took a close look at the social development of the children in the study who attended day care and found mixed results. At ages 2 and 3, children who spent more time in child care centers tended to be more cooperative and have fewer challenging behaviors than those who did not. By kindergarten, however, the results had flipped and these same children were slightly more likely to have behavior issues than others.

Making the Most of Day Care

If your infant attends day care, choosing the highest quality care you can will benefit her psychosocial development 2. Several elements go into high-quality care, including low adult-to-child ratios, smaller rather than larger classes and caregivers with higher levels of education. In addition, the teachers should be warm and upbeat, engaging with each child in a positive way by encouraging them orally, responding to their cues and comforting them when they are upset.