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Too Much Day Care May Hurt Parent-Child Relationship

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 30, 1999 (New York) -- Federally funded research indicates that mother-child interaction is "less harmonious" when children spend more than 10 hours a week in day care.

Jay Belsky, PhD, a professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University, presented these potentially alarming child-development findings yesterday at a children's health briefing hosted by the American Medical Association (AMA). Belsky is studying more than 1,000 children and their families under research sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He has also completed a smaller study of child care in central Pennsylvania.

In the study sponsored by the NIH, Belsky tracked children to the age of 3. He says that mothers whose children receive extensive day care "are a little less sensitive in the care they provide, and even slightly more negative." By the age of 3, he reports, "children seemed to be less positively engaged when interacting with their parents." According to his Pennsylvania research, heavy use of day care during the first five years of a child's life is associated with the child's difficulty in adjusting to other youngsters and adults.

Asked why lots of day care would negatively impact parent-child interactions, Belsky tells WebMD, "It simply takes time to get to know your child well." He notes that parents and children may be somewhat exhausted when they finally have time together at the end of the working day.

Belsky explains, "Parents come home, they're tired, and it goes on day in and day out -- and all of a sudden you have, not quite two ships passing in the night, but the capacity to synchronize and coordinate is reduced because of these other stresses and strains."

He tells WebMD that mothers -- or fathers -- should take more time before returning to work after having a child. That way, he says, "they have a decent breathing interval to get to know the baby."

But another part of the problem, he adds, is that the nation's standard of child care quality is only "fair to mediocre."

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