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Health & Parenting

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Quality Child Care Leads to Smarter Teens

Study Also Links High-Quality Child Care With Fewer Behavioral Problems in Teens

Early Child Care Study Results

How much better did the kids with high-quality child care do? On a test of academic and cognitive achievement, Vandell says, "the children who had high-quality child care scored 5.3 points higher, on average."

To put that in perspective, the average score, in general, on the test is 100. Her study participants, overall, scored 106 on average. The teens with high-quality child care scored 5.3 above that, she says.

Those who had high-quality child care tended to have fewer ''acting out'' problems as teens, they found.

The more hours the teens had spent in early child care during their first four and a half years, the more risk taking and impulsivity they reported as teens, the researchers found, but that was partly compensated for by the effects of quality care on fewer acting-out behaviors.

Although the effects were small, they're important, the researchers say, and they don't fade away over the years.

Effects of Early Child Care: Another View

The messages from the new study are clear, says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in Washington, D.C., who reviewed the findings for WebMD. "Quality matters, and the way this study measures quality is to look at the relationship between the child and the child care provider over time. Is it warm, is it caring?"

Even if a teen's child care program was not high quality, parents can compensate, she says. "It's never too late. Whatever positive [things] their child is interested in, they can build on and extend," she says. "Motivation begets motivation."

Likewise, if a child is too aggressive and in danger of behavioral problems, experts know a lot more now about how to help that child than they did at the study start in 1991, Galinsky says. One technique, for instance, is teaching a child ''perspective taking," where a child is taught to ''read'' another child's state of mind to guide his own behavior and avoid conflict, Galinsky says.

Finding High-Quality Child Care

How can parents decide if a child care setting is high quality?

Vandell suggests getting referrals to child care programs from friends, then selecting two or three programs that sound good.

''Talk to the people on the phone, and then go observe," she says. Stay for several hours or half a day if possible. Don’t focus only on the caregiver, she says. Instead, pick a child or two who matches your own in age, behavior, personality, and energy level, if possible. See how each child and the caregivers interact.

Check to see if your state has an evaluation program for guidance, Vandell says.

Pay attention to the environment when you observe, says Galinsky. ''If the kids all run over to you when you walk in," she says, "they're bored."

"If all the art work is the same, the teachers are entertaining the children," she says. If the children are encouraged to be creative in their artwork, it's a good sign, she says.

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