Day care is care provided by people other than the parents or relatives of the infant. Day care can include provisions like nurseries, child minders, playgroups etc. It is different from institutionalised care which provides permanent substitute care. Day care is considered a temporary alternative to the primary care giver. (Eysenck, 2005).
There have been a variety of studies into the effects of day care on social development. Shea’s (1981) study involved videotaping three and four year olds during their first 10 weeks at nursery. They found sociability increased during the time spent at nursery. Children’s behaviour was assessed using five dimensions: aggression, rough-and-tumble play, frequency of peer interaction, distance from the teacher and distance from the nearest child. There were many indications that sociability increased, including a decreased distance from the nearest child, a decrease in aggression and an increase in rough-and-tumble play. Increased sociability was greater in those attending the nursery for five days a week, compared to those attending for 2 days per week. This indicates that it is attendance at nursery rather than maturation of the child that was responsible for most of the changes. This research suggests that day care enhances social development and it may have a positive impact on a child’s future social development.
However, this study lacks external validity (can the findings be applied beyond the setting of the study) due to the children being videotaped as they may have changed their behaviour due to this. The study also lacks longitudinal validity (lack of validity due to the length of the study) as the children may have become more sociable after the study finished. Individual differences may also play a part as some children may not socialise as well as others. For example, some forms of autism leave children struggling to socialise.
Like Shea (1981), Clarke-Stewart et al. (1994) also found that day care enhanced social development in young children. This study was carried out in Chicago with 150 children aged between two and three years from a variety of backgrounds. The children in day care learned earlier how to cope with different social situations and how to negotiate with peers, which is beneficial when they start school.
Both Shea (1981) and Clarke-Stewart et al. (1994) support the argument that day care enhances social development in infants and can be beneficial to their future development. However, the Clarke-Stewart et al. study lacks population validity (extent to which findings can be generalised to other cultures) as children from eastern cultures may not react the same way due to being raised differently to children in western cultures. This study has low ecological validity (findings relevant to situation) as the quality of day care has increased in the last 15 years. The results may also be affected by the child’s own personality.
John Bowlby (1946) completed a study entitled 44 Juvenile thieves. An opportunity sample was taken of 88 children from the clinic where he worked, of which, half were juvenile thieves, the other “control” group had emotional problems but did not show any antisocial behaviour. The children and their parents were interviewed by Bowlby to gather a history and psychological characteristics of the child.
Bowlby placed each child into one of six groups; Normal, Depressed, Circular (over activity and symptoms of depression), Hyperthymic (over activity), Affectionless (no affection for others, and no shame or responsibility for actions) and Schizoid (withdrawn and lacking relationships with others).
Bowlby found that 32% of thieves suffered from Affectionless psychopathy (little or no guilt shown for actions) and 86% of those diagnosed with affectionless psychopathy had experienced early separation unlike the control group who had experienced very little separation.
Bowlby concluded that maternal separation in a child’s early years could cause permanent emotional damage. He also claimed that once the damage had been done it could never be reversed.
However, Bowlby can be criticised for researcher bias as he conducted the research himself and therefore could have swayed the results to show what he wanted them to show. There is also a gender bias as no girls were used in the sample and so the results cannot be generalised.
This study could indicate that if children are placed in day care at an early age it could have a detrimental effect on their social development. Belsky and Rovine (1988) support Bowlby’s findings as they also found that there was an increased risk of insecure attachments in children if they were placed in day-care for at least four months, especially if this had begun before the age of one.
The findings from both John Bowlby (1946) and Belsky and Rovine (1988) show that day care at an early age could be detrimental for a child’s development.
On the other hand, there is evidence that attendance at day care does not affect emotional development. Clarke-Stewart et al. (1994) studied time spent in day care and quality of attachment to see if there was a correlation. The study involved over 500 children. They found that children aged 15 months who were placed in “high intensity” day care (30 hours per week from aged 3 months) were no more distressed when separated from their mother in the “strange situation” study than those children who were placed in day care for 10 hours per week or less.
The strange situation was originally conducted by Ainsworth and Bell in 1970. This study involved the mother/caregiver, child and a stranger. The strange situation involved the mother leaving the room and the stranger interacting with the child. The mother then returned and continued interacting with the child. They found 3 different types of attachment, secure, resistant and avoidant. Securly attached children will show distress when the care giver leaves, however are rapidly content on the care givers return. Resistant attachment is characterised by children being insecure in the presence of the caregiver, and become very distressed on the caregiver leaving. When the care giver returns the child is resistant of contact with the care giver and are nervous of the stranger. Avoidant attachment is characterised by the child not seeking contact with the care giver. They show little distress when separated and when the care giver returns the infant avoids contact with them.
This shows that children placed in day care are not affected by this in terms of their attachment to their main caregiver. However, even though there is a large sample which increases the studies validity this research was completed in a laboratory setting so it lacks ecological validity. This study has low population validity and so cannot be generalised. This study was not conducted over a long period of time and therefore the long term effects of day care cannot be established.
The study, talked about above, conducted by Clarke-Stewart at el. (1994) suggests that attachment was not affected by day care. Roggman et al. (1994) also found no adverse effects from children being placed in day care at an early age when looking at behaviour in the strange situation. Roggman et al compared children who had been cared for at home to those who had been placed in day care before the age of one. Both groups appeared equally securely attached to their primary care givers which supports the study conducted by Clarke-Stewart et al. (1994) and shows no ill effects from children being placed in day care.
Much like social development, there is a variety of studies that have been conducted into effects of day care on cognitive development.
Broberg et al. (1997) conducted a study in Sweden with 146 children. Some of those children were cared for at home, others with a child minder and the rest of the participants were placed in nursery. All children were assessed at the age of 8 years old and all the children who had been placed in day care achieved consistently better on both Verbal and Mathematical tests. They also found that the longer the children had been in day care the better their scores were on the assessments.
However, this study lacks population validity and so cannot be generalised.
Clarke-Stewart et al. (1994) also had the same result as Broberg in that children benefited from day care. However, they also found that if young children were in nursery for more than 6 hours per day then it was less beneficial.
Kagan et al. (1980), on the other hand, completed a study into cognitive development of children by setting up their own nursery of mixed social class in Boston, USA They focused on 33 children who had attended from 3.5 months and were compared to a similar control group cared for at home. They found no large differences between nursery and home groups on cognitive and attachment assessments.
However this study cannot be generalised due to low population validity. The sample size was also rather small and so on a larger scale there may have been different results. Therefore this study is lacking in external and ecological validity.
The conclusion that can be drawn from all of this information is that day care is beneficial for social and cognitive development because children gain social skills while placed in day care so they do not have to try to gain those skills once at school. They may start to learn how to read and write and complete simple maths sums, again, giving them a head start against those children who had been cared for at home. The research discussed shows that children gain valuable skills for school while in day care which gives them an advantage compared to those children who had been cared for at home. This therefore shows that as long as the day care is of high quality then being in day care is beneficial for children. Word count: 1625
Eysenck, M. 2005, Psychology for AS level, Hove: Psychology Press Ltd.
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Rice, K.E. (1999) Integrated Sociopsychology, http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/44_juvenile_thieves.html,