The impact of different forms of day care on children’s social development, including the effects on aggression and peer relations.

Day care was in the news earlier this year. In January, the UK government announced that the rules about the ratio of carers to children for childminders and nurseries were to be relaxed. Each carer would be allowed to look after more children provided the carer’s qualifications met new standards. You can read about this here.

In June, the government changed its mind and decided that the ratios would stay the same. This was a result of disagreements within the government. You can read about this here.

This suggests that there is disagreement among both politicians and experts as to what good chid care looks like. Some people think that what matters is the bond between carer and child, others think that the qualifications of the carer and the ability to deliver the early years curriculum is most important. You can see some different points of view here.

Your task is to find out more about the issues related to day care and children’s social development on which researchers are still working. Find out what questions researchers are asking and what answers they have found. You will need to decide for yourself what to put into a search engine to find this information. We will look at some slightly older research in our lessons. Please look for research published after 2009.

If you find anything which is good, please leave a comment with a link.


  1. From
    The time children spend in day care is associated with negative effects in social development. More hours in day care during a child’s early years is associated with less social competence and cooperation, more problem behaviors, negative mood, aggression, and conflict. Negative effects of day care on social–emotional development persist throughout early childhood and adolescence. Day care is linked with poorer average outcomes when children spend more time in center care, enter day care at an earlier age, or are in lower-quality care. Maternal sensitivity is strongly linked to the effects of day care on children’s social development and is the most crucial predictor of children’s development, even when children spend long hours in day care.

    This website explains that the quality of care affects the child’s development and that the day care assistants need to provide care that will improve their academics and social development.

  3. Does nursery daycare harm children? Is there an alternative? Should mothers stay at home? For decades, these questions have panicked parents. In a special investigation, Amelia Gentleman examines the often contradictory evidence. In 1986, a young American academic, (Amelia Gentleman) published a paper where he warned, tentatively, that babies who were looked after in daycare were showing signs of increased levels of aggression and disobedience in later life.

  4. The Impact of Daycare Centers on Child Development
    by Erica Loop, Demand Media

    Day care can help your child develop new abilities.
    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 60 percent of young children attend some form of a pre-primary school program. Whether the specific program calls itself an early learning center, preschool, nursery or child care center, day care can have a profound effect on a child’s development. From bringing on budding socialization skills to affecting behavior, the day care environment plays a pivotal role in the growth and changes of early childhood.

    Social Development
    More opportunities to interact with other children equals more chances to learn how to socialize, according to the national child development organization Zero to Three. While you don’t necessarily need to send your little one off to day care to ensure healthy social development, this type of group program can help kids under school-age improve their skills in areas such as sharing, making friends, taking turns and communicating with others. The day-to-day interactions with peers can help a child to feel more comfortable in group dynamics and better understand socially acceptable do’s and don’t’s such as not talking when someone else is speaking to you or asking to play with a toy instead of just taking it.

    Academics and Learning
    While no parent should expect a child to “graduate” from day care with an encyclopedic type of knowledge, an early childhood program can help to teach valuable skills and knowledge that carry over into kindergarten and later grade school. Although plenty of parents do teach these skills at home, a day care provider employs professionally trained preschool or early childhood teachers who understand the child’s development, expected learning goals and realistic outcomes. For example, your 4-year-old’s day care teacher knows that your child can count up to five (possibly up to 10) and will create a variety of lessons during the course of the year to regularly reinforce this budding math skill.

    Language Development
    A high-quality day care program should provide constant and consistent opportunities for young children to develop their language skills. This includes giving children the opportunity to talk (using their expressive language) and listen (developing receptive language). Additionally, day care teachers can help children develop a new, and more sophisticated, vocabulary through both formal and informal lessons. Adults often “dumb down” or use baby talk words when speaking to young children for fear that little ones can’t grasp a more grown-up way of speaking. The skilled early childhood worker can introduce appropriate vocabulary through the use of story books, conversation or themed activities. For example, a teacher in a preschool-age room can introduce scientific terms such as hypothesis, microscope, pipette or observation during a classroom experiment activity.

    Motor Development
    Day care centers can provide young children with an array of opportunities to increase fine and gross motor development. Fine motor development includes skills and abilities having to do with the small muscles in the hands such as eye-hand coordination or dexterity. A quality child care program can affect fine motor development by providing kids with the opportunity to explore a variety of handy activities such as painting with brushes on an easel or using manipulatives such as tying games or stringing beads. Gross motor skills include large muscle development, balance and coordination. During the child’s day at her care center, she might have the opportunity to use a school gym, an outdoor play area, play group ball games or ride tricycles.

  5. Researchers from the Radboud University Nijmegan have created a 2 player computer game for 5 year olds in which the children have to learn to communicate in order to find a hidden object without using words.

    Researchers found that children adapted their style of communication, depending on who they thought their co-player was. If the child thought they were playing against a two year old, they took a more patient approach and spent a longer time indicating the location of the hidden object.

    The researchers concluded that the more days the children spent in daycare, the better they could adjust their communication style. They found education levels of parents had a weak effect on how well children could adjust their communication style.

  6. These are a really good start. Thank you again to the people who posted them. I’m picking up a few ideas. I can see that daycare is still a controversial issue about which people are sensitive. I can also see how the NICHD research we have looked at in class is referred to on many websites giving advice to parents. The most interesting post psychologically is the last one. The NICHD research focuses on a big question: essentially it is whether day care is a good or bad thing for children. As often happens in Psychology, a big question gets broken down into several smaller questions. In this case, the question is how children’s use of language affects their social development. So the challenge now is to find out about individual pieces of research which are up to date and which answer a specific question.


    In this article the effects of early childcare on children are discussed and backed up by psychological research. It also looks at how children with special needs are affected by early childcare and what might be beneficial to them.


    Children who spend more hours per week in non-maternal child care are more likely to exhibit problematic social–behavioral adjustment, including less social competence and cooperation and more problem behaviors, negative moods, aggression, and conflict. In teachers’ reports of kindergartners’ social adjustment, the effect of hours spent in non-maternal care prior to kindergarten is comparable to the effect of poverty in predicting behavioral problems.

    Negative effects associated with quantity of child care persist throughout development. Children who experienced more hours of child care had significantly fewer social skills and poorer work habits in the third grade. In the sixth grade, children who had experienced more center care continued to show more problem behaviors. At age 15, children who had experienced more non-relative (non-family) child care reported more risk-taking behaviors and impulsivity, including using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs; behaving in ways that threatened safety; and not being able to control impulses appropriately.

    Better child care quality is associated with some positive social behavioral effects, including fewer problem behaviors in measures at age 15 years. But child care quality is significantly less important in either positive or negative social and emotional outcomes than quantity of child care.

    Mothers whose children spend more time in non-maternal care are likely to exhibit lower levels of sensitivity and less positive mother–child interactions, regardless of the quality and stability of the child care.

    Children whose mothers exhibit low levels of sensitivity and who are in child care more than 10 hours a week or in lower-quality child care are more likely to experience attachment insecurity.

    Attachment insecurity is associated with negative social–behavioral outcomes across development. Children who do not establish secure attachments in their relationship with their mothers are more likely to experience social withdrawal, depression, and anxiety. Boys with an insecure maternal attachment are more likely to exhibit conflict, aggression, and acting out.

    This article shows the effect on different types of day care on three parts of childrens’ development; cognition, language and behavioral. This is really interesting as it establishes a link not only between their behaviors and their care in early life but also the ways they learn.

  10. These comments and links are helpful because they open up so many issues. Mikaela’s comment links to the work of a researcher at Brigham Young University. This researcher dwells almost exclusively on the negative effects of day care. The size of the negative effect – small in comparison with other factors – is ignored as is the evidence from studies which report more positive effects. Hannah’s comment links to a Canadian website which brings together research from a number of studies. The conclusions about the positive effects on cognitive and language development show that there may be benefits as well as costs involved in childcare. Mel’s comment links to a site which works systematically through the NICHD study and breaks down the findings in terms of a number of “trues” and “falses”. This reminds us that our views need to be based on scientifically conducted studies with valid findings.

    Social sensitivity, positives, understanding the science …… all of these are dealt with in this conversation broadcast today.
    Have a listen before you put your interview/questionnaire study together: scientifically informed, contemporary and compassionate.

  11. I’m now looking back on these comments after a few months. I’m grateful to Ines for raising the question of how to evaluate the Campbell study on peer relations, which has made me look back at what’s here and think about it again. Here are some ideas …..

    Firstly, I get a sense of how controversial all of this is. When we did the task, I was surprised by how easy it was for people to find information online which portrayed day care in a very negative light. This tends to come from people with a much broader social agenda about the role of women and the nuclear family. If you want to get a flavour of the controversy in this area, have a look at this article here.

    The second point that comes out of the blog exercise is that the success of childcare in developing children socially depends on so many factors. Some of these are within the child: there’s evidence that children with particular special needs can benefit from day care more than normally developing children. Some of these are within the environment: day care can be particularly effective when it focuses on particular aspects of children’s social development such as language skills. Its success also depends on factors such as age of entry and attitudes of parents.

    So in a controversial area, I guess what I am looking for is good science. I want to see strong evidence and I want to see it reported in a balanced way. In an area which is so controversial, I’m looking for researchers who don’t give a simple positive or negative message about day care but who give a message which is subtle and complex. I find the good science in Campbell et al. The research methods are strong because more than one type of measure is used and the research is carried out over a long period. It is open about its agenda. It is deliberately going to somewhere where day care is very good and seeing how positive the effects might be. It is not pretending that what occurs in Sweden will be the same the world over. It balances positive and negative findings.

    I’ve just been doing features of science with the A2 students. We define objectivity as follows:
    “By “objectivity”, we mean the extent to which knowledge can be verified by measurement. Objectivity is central to science and therefore to Psychology. Psychologists do not base their theories on prejudices, personal opinion or emotion. Instead, they collect data which can be measured from which they draw conclusions. Without objectivity, there is no Psychology.” I think this sums up the Campbell study well.

    The other place where I am finding good science is in the research of Kathy Sylva. I’m grateful to Ellie for pointing me in the direction of this article which contains some commentary from Kathy Sylva
    She seems to me to cut through a lot of the rhetoric and say something sensible, balanced and fair. Have another look at this before you do any writing.

  12. […] where the evidence is contradictory and confusing. I managed to put a final comment on to the post we started back in December. I’m grateful to the students who contributed to this process for […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: