Choosing Child Care
A Positive Decision
Will I be a bad parent if I send my child to child care? Worse – will it be bad for my child? The answer is a resounding no, and for mothers feeling a bit overwhelmed, research shows that some level of quality child care is actually good for both mother and child.
In an ideal world some people feel, they wouldn’t send their child to child care. Conventional wisdom is that children are better-off at home.
But most opinions about child care are based on feelings rather than hard information. There is, however, a big body of research about child care versus staying home with mum, and it’s not quite as black and white as we would think.
There used to be a phrase in child psychology coined by the late Dr Winnicott, called “ the good-enough mother”, and it gave great comfort to many mothers who worried that they could or should be better mothers. By this phrase, he meant that the mother who gives love, care, comfort, consistency, and a normal family life, is good enough. But times have changed, and many mothers now have to make the choice to give their child to some-one else to care for.
This is when it’s good to know that the people caring for your child have skills which balance out the advantages of staying home with mum.
The things that distinguish good child care include sensitivity and responsiveness to a child’s needs and signals, happy, supportive and encouraging inter-action with the child, which includes being friendly and involving, and above all, chatty, as this extends the child’s communication skills. The other big advantage of good child care is the cognitive stimulation, meaning teaching, extending and interesting the child, thus giving the child opportunities for physical, mental and emotional growth.
Studies comparing exclusive mother care versus child care and home-based care, show that there was no difference by the age of two in cognitive and language development between exclusive mother care and good child care centres. In fact, children in formal child care with professional skilled staff did better than children in all types of care by three years old. The number of hours spent in child care seemed to make no difference to the child’s development.
This research seems to show that exclusive maternal care is not necessarily better than a good quality child care centre. On the other hand, the same research showed that good child care centres are better for children than home-based care, whether by family or paid child- carer. Children do better in a good quality child care centre than in an informal child care arrangement.
Among the reasons for this is that children get to be with plenty of other children in their own age group, and develop both language skills, communication and social skills in this setting. Child care centres also have a range of equipment and activities which stretch and extend childrens’ abilities, their staff are all trained to know when a child is ready for the next stage of their physical and mental development and have the skills to support their growth. They understand how to use language, water games, sand play, music, reading, and all the other activities of a good child care centre to keep children amused and stimulated.
For older children the skills they learn at pre-school and child care centres means they start school feeling confident and able to cope with the classroom.All this encouraging research means that caring parents don’t need to beat themselves up if they decide they need to send their child to child care. Too often parents feel guilty when they make this decision, but the evidence shows that mother care is good for children, and so is good child care.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Early Child Care Research Network Development, “The relation of child care to cognitive and language development”, Child Development. Vol 71. No 4, July/August 2000