Daycare is a necessity for most parents because many families require two incomes to get by financially. Others have made a personal choice to combine working and a supportive home life for the benefit of all members of the household. Single parents usually don’t have the capacity to raise their young ones and hold down a job at the same time.
While the inability to do it all is often stressful for many parents, they can rest assured daycare is a viable option. It offers long-lasting social, economic and academic benefits for kids and their parents. Studies have shown that children, including babies and infants from the ages of 6 months to 4 years, benefit from the daycare environment, including its quality instruction, structure and social lessons.
Even young children have a schedule at daycare. Although they might not be aware of the ticking clock, children are provided with a full slate of activities that include songs and storytelling. For toddlers, these fun tasks are essential to their intellectual growth and development. The scheduled activities are also satisfying for parents, who have less worry that their toddler’s behavior will be erratic at the end of the day due to a lack of structured times for eating, playing and napping.
An extensive study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that young children had higher cognitive and academic achievement scores as teens if they spent time in high-quality daycare as young children. Of the more than 1,300 children studied, over 90 percent had been in the care of someone other than a parent before the age of 4. The study defined “high-quality” daycare as facilities that provide extensive interaction with care providers, support, and cognitive-boosting activities.
Stay-at-home parents value the regular play dates they arrange with families and neighbors with kids of a similar age. Daycare interaction is an extension of this phenomenon, where kids get to spend time around one another in a supervised, structured and safe environment. Kids learn how to problem-solve, share and otherwise play and learn well together, while their minds are still growing and personalities still emerging.
When children are very young, they learn about adults mostly from their parents and senior members of their families. Daycare provides an opportunity for children to see other adults as mentors and authority figures able to provide positive guidance. A 2006 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found that high-quality daycare was directly connected to quality caregiving. Specifically, adult care providers respond to children’s vocalizations, provide encouragement, show a positive attitude and discourage negative interactions in the daycare environment.
Dropping your child at daycare can seem like a rushed, often anxiety-provoking experience. Even if you have done your research and are actively engaged in learning about the daycare’s staff, credentials and day-to-day operations, you are still leaving your precious child with a group of strangers. You may have little to no interaction with people who are sharing your experience: other parents. However, a recent study showed that even a small amount of time with other parents provides immense benefit.
The University of Chicago found that those few moments parents spent engaging in talk while dropping off their children provided immense long-term benefits. The parents gained “social capital,” which might also be thought of as a feeling of community. Parents had markedly lower rates of depression and experienced less financial hardship over the long term, and simply knowing the parents of other children increased the level of trust parents had in the institution. Daycares were especially beneficial in low-income neighborhoods, where the centers were used as a kind of pipeline for government support services.
Clinical psychologist Francine Lederer stated that some women who are financially able to stay at home may choose to go back to work for their own mental health. While this decision may seem counter-intuitive, it may be what’s best for baby. According to Lederer, women who don’t work can suffer from depression, which may harm their children. If mom is happier working, and children thrive in a high-quality daycare, the placement may be best for everyone.