Good news today for working parents wracked with guilt at the morning drop off: nurseries and creches give young children a chance to learn and play at the same time, but new research suggests they could be significant for children’s psychological development, too.
Children who attend nurseries, creches and daycare centres staffed by professionals are less likely to have poor social skills, difficult relationships with peers and behavioural issues later in childhood than those looked after before the age of three by family and friends, or by a childminder.
Previous research suggested that early childcare could boost a child’s language and thinking skills and possibly their academic abilities, but there had not been definitive findings on the potential impact on children’s behaviour.
The new study, led by the Sorbonne University in France, looked at the factors involved in childhood health and development using a survey of 1,428 children. It tracked their emotional development from birth up to the age of eight, using responses completed by the children’s parents at the age of three, five-and-a-half, and eight-years-old.
In France, formal childcare provision is widespread, of good quality, and open to all, with almost all children starting school by the age of three, the study states.
The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, studied 636 children who had been looked after by a childminder before starting school at the age of three, 367 who had attended formal daycare, and 425 who had been looked after by family and friends.
Of the children studied, 15.5 per cent had behavioural problems, 16 per cent had emotional issues, 13 per cent had poor social skills and 7 per cent found it hard to make friends with children their own age.
But of the different groups studied, those looked after by professionals at nurseries, creches and daycare centres before the age of three were more likely to have better social skills and less likely to have emotional or behavioural problems than the children looked after by friends and family.
This difference became stronger among children who attended nurseries or creches for a year or more.
Children who had been looked after by childminders were more likely to have behavioural issues, the study suggested.
Researchers stressed this was an observational study and that more research is needed to see if these benefits have an impact on children in later life.
The combination of mental stimuli that children get from playtime at formal care establishments, along with the praise they receive, the rules they have to follow and the quality of interaction with caregivers, could be contributing to why these children were likely to have less behavioural issues, researchers suggested.
“Access to high quality childcare in the first years of life may improve the children’s emotional and cognitive development, prevent later emotional difficulties and promote prosocial behaviours,” the researchers said.