Day care can be a powerful factor in the life of a child, with both positive and negative outcomes.

Is Day Care Harmful or Helpful for Children?

by Mario Ramos

According to a study published by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) in February 2013, "[Day care] center-based child care is associated with both positive and negative effects." It is a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of day care before your child attends one, because it can have a profound effect on her emotional, intellectual and physical well-being.

1. Intellectual Benefits

The NICHHD noted that "children 6 months of age and older who had more experience in child care centers showed somewhat better cognitive and language development through age 3 and somewhat better pre-academic skills involving letters and numbers at age 4½ than children with less center-based child care experience." Fun and educational activities keep children engaged with learning, increasing their enthusiasm for it.

2. Interaction with Peers

Day care centers also offer many more opportunities to socialize with peers their own age and to learn valuable social skills. Learning to work with other children and playing fairly and politely with them, as well as managing conflict with others, are all skills that your little one can hone and perfect on a daily basis at day care. This explains why the NICHHD reported "somewhat fewer problem behaviors" in children of day care centers than children involved in other types of child care by the age of 3.

3. Greater Exposure to Illness

The NICHHD study found that children in day care centers are at greater risk for ear infections, stomach illness and upper respiratory diseases than children in other types of care. Specifically, the likelihood increased when the children were in child care environments with 6 or more children. However, this was only true for children that attended day care until the age of 3; this study also noted that "children who were in large group care during their third year of life were less likely to contract upper respiratory and stomach illnesses between ages 3 and 4½."

4. Emotional Disconnection

In observing the daily operations of several day care centers, author and researcher Robin Lynn Leavitt noticed that "control appears to have become the operative and primary goal for caregivers, rather than a means to achieve developmental goals, such as health, safety, and competence. Indeed, the field notes illustrate how the exercise of control often operates to the child's detriment." She noticed that the emotional needs and desires of children at these centers were often ignored, in favor of promoting the caregivers' desired -- that is, "good" -- behavior. This sends the message that a child's emotions are not as important as her outward actions, and that the two need not be linked.

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