Daycare Kids Aggressive?

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Registered: 03-26-2003
Daycare Kids Aggressive?
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 8:26am

Child Aggressiveness Study Cites Day Care

By Shankar Vedantam

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, April 19, 2001; Page A06

The more hours that toddlers spend in child care, the more likely they are to turn out aggressive, disobedient and defiant by the time they are in kindergarten, according to the largest and most authoritative study of child care and development ever conducted.

Researchers yesterday said this correlation held true regardless of whether the children came from rich or poor homes, were looked after by a relative, a nanny or at a center, and whether they were girls or boys.

What is uncertain, however, is whether the child care actually causes the problem or whether children likely to turn out aggressive happen to be those who spend more hours in child care. It also remains unclear whether reducing the amount of time in child care will reduce the risk that a child will turn into a mean-spirited bully.

Complicating matters further, quality child care is associated with increased skills in intellectual ability such as language and memory, leading some academics to suggest that child care turns out children who are "smart and nasty."

The government-sponsored research, which has tracked more than 1,300 children at 10 sites across the country since 1991, is bound to rekindle the debate over child care, a debate that resonates across every income group and every demographic: How should people balance work and family? And how should parents, especially mothers, resolve the demands that are placed on them to be both breadwinners and Supermoms?

That debate was already on display at a new briefing yesterday, where researchers themselves clashed about the data and its implications.

"There is a constant dose-response relationship between time in care and problem behavior, especially those involving aggression and behavior," said Jay Belsky of Birkbeck College in London, one of the lead investigators of the study who has previously earned the ire of women's groups because of his criticisms of child care.

Children who spend more than 30 hours a week in child care "scored higher on items like 'gets in lots of fights,' 'cruelty,' 'explosive behavior,' as well as 'talking too much,' 'argues a lot,' and 'demands a lot of attention,' " said Belsky. "If more time in all sorts of arrangements is predicting disconcerting outcomes, then if you want to reduce the probability of those outcomes, you reduce the time in care. Extend parental leave and part-time work."

"On behalf of fathers or mothers?" interrupted Sarah Friedman, a developmental psychologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and one of the other lead scientists on the study.

"On behalf of parents and families," responded Belsky.

"NICHD is not willing to get into policy recommendations," retorted Friedman, contradicting her colleague. "There are other possibilities that can be entertained. Yes it's a quick solution -- more hours is associated with more problems. The easy solution is to cut the number of hours but that may have implications for the family that may not be beneficial for the development of the children in terms of economics."

In an interview after the briefing, Friedman said that asking parents to work fewer hours and spend more time with their children usually meant a loss of family income, which adversely affects children.

Child advocates also cautioned against a knee-jerk reaction.

"One out of three children whose mothers work would be poor if they didn't work," said Helen Blank, director of child care at Washington's Children's Defense Fund, a nonprofit, child-advocacy group.

"Women work for a complex set of reasons, she said. "We had a national policy in 1996 that required low-income-level women to work. Many women are working to pay the mortgage or health insurance."

Scientists said that the study was highly reliable. Although the findings were about children in kindergarten, the children in the study are actually now in the sixth grade. The lag is because of the time it takes researchers to sort through the data.

The results will be formally presented today at a meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Minneapolis.

The researchers found that 17 percent of children who spent over 30 hours a week in child care demonstrated problem behaviors by the time they were between the ages of 4 1/2 and 6. Only 6 percent of those who spent less than 10 hours a week in such care had the same problems. The average time that children spent in child care between the ages of 3 months and 4 1/2 years was 26 hours a week.

While those problems were not resolved by the quality of the child care, such quality improved children's language and memory skills. For example, more hours spent watching TV, rather than in a rich verbal environment, was correlated with lower math scores, smaller vocabularies and more behavior problems.

What could explain the correlation between child care and problem behavior?

"When families have a child in child care, there is always a question of balancing work, family and child care," said Robert Pianta, a professor of education at the University of Virginia and another scientist conducting the study. "The more hours a week in child care, the more that balance gets difficult to achieve. I suspect that's the issue. It may place a little more stress on the family . . . That might have an effect on the child."

The researchers said they had no idea whether the behaviorial difficulties persisted as the children moved to higher grades. They also cautioned about extrapolating too much from the study -- for example, the data did not explain a recent spate of school violence.

"I'm not saying they are the super, hyper violent types," said Belsky. "These kids are more likely to be bullying kids. That's bullying within the normal range. I'm not endorsing bullying, but we are not talking of psychopaths and kids who gets guns and blow away other kids."




Avatar for cl_annieb67
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Registered: 03-25-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 8:57am
Well, not sure why aggressivness is automatically tied with disobedient, and defiant. IMO, aggressiveness is a *good* thing, when channeled properly. Disobedince, and defiance can also be channeled.

I love this statement though:


Sounds like CEO material to me.:O)

I can't speak for others, but I don't want children who lap up everything that is spoon-fed to them. I want aggressive children, why defy in the proper manner. Sure disobedience is a PITA with a three year old, but show me a three year old who isn't disobedient at one time or another. It seems it's the "aggressiveness" these studies want to focus on.

Once again, these qualites are deemed negative in children, but make for, IMO, really great adults.

"There in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I close my eyes, feel their beauty and follow where they lead."

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 10:07am
My opinion? Its bunk.

Why? Because it puts dc in a negative light? Because I disagree with it? Because it doesn't support my position? Nope. Because THERE IS NO CONTROL GROUP.

Oh, they'll say there is a control group. they'll say they compared dc kids (the experimental group) to sah kids (the control group). And the dc kids were more aggressive.

But, if they don't observe those SAME DC kids in a SAH environment, how can they know? Sure, Billy (a dc kid) might be aggressive and disobedient and whatever else teh study said. But billy might just BE an aggressive and disobedient kid. He might have been aggressive and disobedient even if his mom had SAH.

Sure, Susie (a SAH kid) might be passive and a behavioral angel. But Susie might just BE an angelic child. Put susie in dc from infance through preschool years and she still might be passive and a behavioral angel.

IMO, the aggressiveness/passiveness, disobedience/obedience, defiant/non-defiant, of a child has much more to do with morals, value adn parenting styles and personality than where that child spends some of its waking hours.

I have two dc kids. Dd is extremely passive. Always has been. and I figure always will be (she's so passive that I try to instill some aggressiveness in her ... otherwise she'll be a doormat as an adult). Ds is fairly aggressive. Adn you know what? dd was in more daycare as a very young child than ds was. Which is why I don't think dc is the only (or even one at all) deciding factor here.


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-10-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 10:28am
I was listening to a report on this study on NPR yesterday and they interviewed a psychologist who said something similar to what you say here, with a twist. She agreed that aggressiveness was not always a bad thing. She pointed out that aggressiveness is defined differently for different people and she also said that children in DC, in her opinion, tend to be more outgoing and resilient, which may come across as aggressive at certain developmental stages.

So I'm going to steal her point and say that one person's idea of aggressive behavior may just be my definition of rambunctious ...

Avatar for cyndiluwho
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 4:19pm
If they didn't observe the kids at home, how do they know they were less aggressive? Did they take moms word for it??? Um, yeah, mom will tell you her little Johnny is an angel, lol.
Avatar for cyndiluwho
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 4:28pm
Um, you do realize that this is old news and that it was pretty much debunked when peer reviewed, right? If memory serves me correctly, the increased "aggression" is seen only in the pre school years. Once kids start school, there was no difference between the two groups. Hmmm? Imagine that. Take one child and put him in an environment where there is someone to cater to him 24 x 7 and another in an environment where he has to compete for attention and you SEE (operative word is SEE) more aggressive behavior in the second child!! DUH, take two adults and do the same thing and you will SEE less aggression in the one who has someone to cater to them until you take that environment away.

This is a no brainer!! Of course you SEE more aggression in kids who are in different environments compared to those who have mom home 24 x 7 to cater to them. Kids who SAH with mom rarely get what they don't expect and have someone around to cater to them. So you SEE more aggression in kids who go to dc. So what? I would be surprised if you DIDN'T see more aggression, however, this does not mean dc causes aggression. What it really means is SAH suppresses it as one would expect if you put someone in an environment where they usually got what they were used to and had someone to cater to them.

Avatar for wendy1221
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 4:42pm
Well said, clw. My thoughts exactly. I also think aggression is actually a good thing. Kids need to learn to channel their agression so they're not bullies, but last time I checked, aggression was a positive trait looked for in candidates for *most* jobs.


Avatar for biancamami
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 5:06pm
I believe its in the news again because the study was never published was more of a "preview" at some conference. Now the study has actually been published in the "Child Development" journal. But from having read a bit of the NIH site, I believe that all the headlines are pretty much way off-base and (as usual) twisting the results of the study (and the investigators state that it is NOT a cause and effect study and should not be taken as such)
Avatar for cyndiluwho
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 5:14pm
I seem to recall Belsky getting his hand slapped for releasing the data before it had been peer reviewed. He is determined to save his reputation but he just keeps digging a deeper hole, lol. Do you have a link to the study? I'd like to read it.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 5:15pm
That really is the catch with children's behavioral studies. It's hard, maybe impossible, to parse out enviroment from genetics. What of their behaviour is nature and what is nurture? The only really reliable way would be identical twins, one in daycare, on at home; and that wouldn't happen in real life.

This is about as reliable as some woman in her 60's saying "in MY day there was no daycare and children were much better behaved". Every generation is going to hell in a handbasket according to a previous generation. The previous latches onto a change that has taken place in the intervening decades and blames that change for Kids These Days.

Avatar for cyndiluwho
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Thu, 07-17-2003 - 5:18pm
I do too. I also wonder if some of the increased aggression isn't genetic. If we can make the assumption that women who stay in the work force are more aggressive themselves when compared to women who quit to SAH there might be a genetic influence. Since aggression serves one well in the work world, it would make sense that the children of WP's might be more aggressive than those of a SAHP but I really think that it's having a predictable environment nearly 24 x 7 that is responsible for most of the difference.

Besides, if my child has a problem with aggression, I'd rather find out when they're 3 than wait until school starts.