What Do We Really Know about Child Care and Aggression?

Diane W. Bales, Ph.D.
Human Development Specialist
Cooperative Extension Service
The University of Georgia

Are children who spend more than 30 hours per week in child
care more aggressive than children who spend little or no time
in out-of-home care? Recent news coverage of the NICHD national
child care study has suggested this. But parents who place their
children in child care may not need to feel as guilty as the reports
have suggested. The news is not all bad. In fact, there are
some clear positive effects of high-quality child care program
in this study.

As sometimes happens, the details of this research study have
gotten lost in the translation by popular media. Here are some
of the major findings from this study, as well as more detail
on the results related to aggression.

Child Care Quality Matters
The quality of child care does make a difference. Children
in high-quality care are less likely to be aggressive than are
children in lower-quality care. Children in high-quality programs
also tend to develop better language and thinking skills. Parents
can find high-quality child care settings by looking for things
like small adult-to-child ratios; well-trained, sensitive, and
responsive caregivers; and a setting that provides stimulation
and teaches children how to solve problems and resolve conflicts.

Hearing Language Helps Build Language
Children who hear more reading and talking in their child care
settings tend to do better on language tests at ages 4 and 5.
Parents and caregivers can help children learn language by asking
questions, responding to and expanding on what children say, and
reading and singing with children. And limit the amount of time
children watch TV. Children who spend more time watching TV tend
to have smaller vocabularies.

Parents Matter, Too
Children who receive loving care at home are less likely to
show problem behaviors, even if they are in full-time child care.
Children need parents who are warm and responsive to their needs,
who spend regular time interacting with them, and who set consistent,
age-appropriate limits.

What Does the Study Really Say About Aggression?
“Aggression” is a hot topic for parents and society
as a whole these days. Several high-publicity school shootings
have led parents to worry about violent teens. And it's true
that the roots of violence often can be traced back to early childhood.
What many parents don't understand is that this study does not
prove that long hours in child care cause children to be more
aggressive. The study found that somewhat more children in full-time
child care showed aggressive behaviors than did children in child
care fewer than 10 hours per week. But even among children in
full-time child care, only 17% – fewer than 1 in 5 children –
showed aggressive behaviors. And the percentage of children in
full-time care who were aggressive is the same as the percentage
of all children who are aggressive. So children in full-time
child care do not show abnormally high levels of aggression, compared
to children in general.

It is also important not to misinterpret the relation between
time in child care and aggression. Although the study did show
a link between hours in child care and aggression, this does not
mean spending time in child care causes children to be
more aggressive. Several other explanations are possible. It
is possible, for example, that children who spend more time in
out-of-home care were more aggressive even before they entered
child care.

Consider also that social skills are as important in preparing
for kindergarten as are thinking and language skills. Too many
adults think that children who can count and recite the alphabet
are ready for school. But children in school must also get along
with others, negotiate, and resolve conflicts. Children who learn
problem solving and conflict management in early childhood will
be better prepared to handle the social world of kindergarten
and will be less likely to handle their problems aggressively.

The bottom line is that warm, loving adults who talk with,
listen to, and care about children do help those children succeed.
Parents and child care providers need to work together to be
sure that children have the high-quality care they need, whether
at home or elsewhere.

Reference: New Research Demonstrates Unique Effects
of Quantity, Quality, and Type of Child Care Experienced from
Birth Through Age 4.5
, Press Release by the Society for Research
in Child Development, 4/19/01.


National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational
Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials
in whole or in part for educational purposes only(not for profit
beyond the cost of reproduction) provided that the author and
Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child
Care – NNCC. Bales, D. (2001). What do we really know about child
care and aggression?

Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved
by the author.

Diane W. Bales, Ph.D.
Human Development Specialist
Cooperative Extension Service
The University of Georgia
Hoke Smith Annex
Athens, GA 30602-4356
PH: (706) 542-7566
E-mail: dbales@arches.uga.edu

FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Available only on Internet
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 72K or 2 pages
ENTRY DATE:: May 2001


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