child care an mother-child interaction

An important question for child care researchers today is how characteristics of the home and the child care setting together affect children’s development.  There is mixed opinion on how differences and similarities between professionals’ beliefs, values and practices for raising children impact their development.  There is strong theoretical support for the idea that continuity in children’s experiences from home and child care settings promote optimal development, and that major differences pose developmental challenges, especially for children in very early childhood.  However, research that is available suggests that children from families with lower educational and economic resources can benefit from different environments if the care setting is more advantageous than that provided by the family.

This paper examines early child care settings and the effects, whether they are good or bad, on the developing child.  Also, different factors and variables will be presented in relation to the quality and promotion of congruence across care settings.   This paper details different studies done on early child care from accredited literature and institutions, as well as magazines that focus on the topic of children and their development.

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Early Child Care and Effects on the Developing Child


Recently there have been different viewpoints concerning the child care question, with assertions that non-parental care of young children is detrimental to their development.  However, despite these assertions, research suggests that, given high quality care, the experience of child care is not harmful and can be beneficial to children.

The simple question, “Is child care good or bad?” can be thrown out the window.  In order to ensure that all children receive good quality care one must ask questions that revolve around what makes up good quality care, and how it meets the requirements of the children involved.  Experiences that children have with their peers while in a care setting is also relevant in whether or not a certain setting benefits young children.


The concept that nonmaternal care in the first year of life might have an adverse affect on the security of the infant’s attachment to mother has been a subject of discussion and debate.  Concerns that nonmaternal rearing in the early years with affective and cognitive deficits led to concerns that maternal deprivation posed hazards for the emotional well-being of young children.  It was argued that “elevated rates of insecure attachment, especially insecure-avoidant relationships, were linked to child care; and that babies experience daily separation as maternal rejection.” (Child Development, 1997, p. 860)  Basically, it was believed that by leaving an infant in the care of someone else, the infant would lose confidence in the availability of the parent and therefore hurt the opportunities for infant-parent interaction.  There have been studies conducted in the past comparing routine nonmaternal care in the first year and elevated rates of insecure attachment.  These studies conducted as early as 1969 came to the conclusion that “infants who experienced 20 or more hours per week of routine child care in the first year were significantly more likely to be classified as insecurely attached to their mothers between 12 and 18 months of age than were infants with more limited child care experience.” (Belsky and Rovine, 1988)

Despite the consistency of findings conducted in past decades a more recent investigation conducted by the NICHD (National Institute of Childrens Health and Development) Study of Early Child Care revealed no significant relation between child-care experience and attachment security.  The study, which was conducted in the 1990’s, was the largest multistudy analyses ever conducted.  It also had the advantage of being a longitudinal investigation, in which infants were identified at birth and followed through their first 3 years.  The goal of the study was “to determine the conditions (in the mother and the child) under which routine child-care experience in the first 15 months of life could lead to increased or decreased rates of infant-mother attachment insecurity, as well as avoidant insecurity in particular.  (Child Development, 1997, p. 862)  The results of their study indicated that child care by itself constitutes neither a risk nor a benefit for the development of the infant-mother attachment relationship.  However, the investigators found a link between better quality care and a higher level of maternal sensitivity.    In contrast, they found that poor quality, unstable and minimal amounts of child care apparently added to the risks already relevant in poor mothering, so that the combined effects were worse than those of low maternal involvement.   In short, higher quality care produces more favorable consequences than lower quality of care.

The study also identified factors that contributed to positive caregiving.  Caregivers were rated as providing more positive caregiving when group sizes and child-adult ratios were smaller and when caregivers held less authoritarian beliefs about child raising.  “Small group sizes, low child-adult ratios, caregivers’ nonauthoritarian child-raising beliefs, and safe, clean, and stimulating physical environments were consistently associated with positive caregiving behaviors.”  (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1996)

When determining what constitutes quality child care one needs to ask several questions and seek out direct answers.  In the previous section I covered some factors that contribute to positive caregiving, I would like to elaborate on a few of these.  “Some key factors include:  · Overall cleanliness of the child care setting.  · Safety and health concerns.  Is the house childproof?  Are the electrical outlets covered?  · Are there age-appropriate toys and books available?  · Does the provider have a plan in case of accident or emergency?  · Does the provider provide meals and formula?  Do they make use of the dietary guidelines based on the four food groups?” (Children Today, 1992, p.28)  When a parent seeks out answers to these questions he or she can make an informed decision about where to take their children and can feel comfortable with their decision.

Another important variable relating to child care is that of peer interaction.  Interaction among children in their early stages of development is very important to the social and cognitive competence of every child.  Children learn and grow from interaction with other children.  Children’s experiences with peers begin long before they enter school.  “More than half of mothers with young children are now employed outside the home.  Thus, the majority of infants and young children spend significant amounts of time in nonmaternal care, often with age-mates.”  (Child Development, Sep/Oct 2001, p. 1478)  Because peer skills are just beginning to emerge in these early years, child-care can play an important role in the development of peer competence.  Many studies conducted have confirmed this notion.  One of these studies conducted by the NICHD Study of Early Child Care in 1996, involved 669 children who were observed in child care.  They were observed from 24 to 36 months of age.  “Peer competence was assessed using mother and caregiver ratings as well as observations of children with their peers in child care, and at 36 months from observations of dyadic play with a familiar peer.” (Child Development, Sep/Oct 2001, p. 1478)  The study concluded that children with more experience with other children present were found to be more positive and skilled in their peer play while in the child care setting.  These findings support the theory that interaction with peers develops social skills and competence.

In summary I have gone over the issue of early child care and some of the effects it has on young children.  The argument against infant child care was addressed and my conclusions on the topic were based on recent studies done by accredited institutions and literature.  I covered the topic of quality child care, which is important in every aspect of a child care setting.  The quality of a child care setting was taken into consideration in every study that I researched; obviously this is an important factor on the successfulness of a care provider.  Also, I included the effect of peer interaction in a child care setting.  Peer interaction proves to be an important variable for young children in a care setting.  It is here where childrens’ social skills and competence first begin to take shape.  Once again I based my findings on research conducted by accredited institutions.    Because the issue of child care is so prevalent in our society today, it is important to be aware of what is available out there and how it can be beneficial and not detrimental to our children.  Child care may not be viewed by everyone as a “good thing”, that is fine.  However the fact remains that more and more mothers are working these days and the issue of child care is an important one.  I will conclude with a quote from Connie Garner who directs the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council for Children with Disabilities, “We see child care as part of a hub, a network in the continuum of services in the community…critical places where families can be linked to other resources.”  (Children Today, 1994, p. 15


NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (1997), ‘The effects of infant child care on infant—mother attachment security, results of NICHD study of early child care’, Child Development, vol. 68, no.5, pp. 860-879.

Carroad, L., Diane (1994) Key Child Care and Other Federal Programs for Infants and Toddlers.  Children Today, vol. 2, no.2, p. 14-15

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (1998), ‘Child Care and Children’s Peer Interaction at 24 and 36 Months, results of NICHD study of early child care’, Child Development, vol. 72, no.5, pp. 1478-1500.

Pettit, S., & Bates, E., & Dodge, A., & Meece, W., (1999), ‘The Impact of After-School Peer Contact on Early Adolescent Externalizing Problems is Moderated by Parental Monitoring, Perceived Neighborhood Safety, and Prior Adjustment, Child Development, vol. 70, no.3, pp. 768-778.

Hohman, A., Catherine, (1992), ‘How To Choose Family Day Care’, Children Today, vol. 21, no.1, pp. 27-29.

Internet Sources

NICDH Early Child Care Research Network. (1996). Characteristics of infant child care:  Factors Contributing to positive caregiving.

NICDH Early Child Care Research Network.  (1999).  Only Small Link Found Between Hours in Child Care and Mother-Child Interaction.

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