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Health & Parenting

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Long Hours in Day Care Increase Risk of Behavior Problems


"For parents to work fewer hours seems like a simple solution, but it may not be the best one," Friedman tells WebMD. "If parents reduce the hours they work, it may put them under financial stress, and this is true for a lot of families. It may also have implications for maternal depression. When people have more financial stress they are more likely to be depressed. Because we know the more depressed the mother, the less well the children do, this is another thing to consider. It is possible the link between day care and behavior problems will go away if there are changes in what happens at home."

Child-behavior expert David Fassler, MD, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's council on children, adolescents, and their families, discussed the study with WebMD. He advises parents to find their children the best day care they can, and he notes that day care can be a very positive experience for preschoolers.

"Be an advocate for your child and find the very best day care setting you can," he said. "Look for ratio of staff to children, the turnover rate of the staff, and the overall size of the facility and the number of children being cared for. Children can do very well and develop in a very healthy manner when exposed to good day care settings."

Indeed, Vandell, Friedman, and co-workers found that day care improved children's short-term memories and learning skills at age 4.5. This is the age of entry into kindergarten, and there is strong evidence that the skills and behaviors a child has at that age are important to future school performance. As Fassler suggested, the study showed that the better the child care, the better the child's skills.

"We are finding some good news and some bad news," Vandell says. "Think about an elephant. You wouldn't say the elephant is just the tail. Well, quantity is the tail of the child care elephant and quality is its trunk. To really understand child care you have to be thinking about the whole elephant."

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