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Nurseries beat childminders for emotional development

Nursery childcare might benefit children’s behaviour and social skills more than care by childminders

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 02 October 2018

High quality nursery- or creche-based childcare in the first three years of life is associated with lower levels of emotional symptoms and peer relationship problems in children up to the age of eight years compared with informal or childminder childcare, research* from France has found. The authors of the study concluded in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health that children who were in centre-based childcare for at least one year benefited the most, as did girls and children from socioeconomically more advantaged backgrounds.

Previous research had suggested that early childcare has a positive impact on children’s language, cognitive and preacademic skills, and their academic readiness, but research into its impact on behaviour had had contrasting results. A research team led from Sorbonne University investigated the association between early childcare and children’s behavioural and emotional difficulties in France, where childcare is of high quality and children enter preschool at the age of three.

The researchers studied 1,428 children from the EDEN mother-child cohort study, who had been followed up since pregnancy to the age of eight years. The children were categorised into one of three groups, according to their mothers’ reports about childcare arrangements made at four, eight and 12 months, and at two and three years. The groups were: childminder (636 children, 44.5%); centre-based childcare, i.e. a nursery, day-care centre or creche staffed by professionals (367, 25.7%); and informal childcare (425, 29.8%) – primarily parents, sometimes complemented by grandparents or other relatives or friends. The study authors pointed out that, in France, childminders are professional caregivers with a state degree, and are authorised to take care of two to six children in their own home; and that childminders and nurseries are both subsidised and have a similar cost to families.

They modelled the children’s trajectories of behavioural and emotional symptoms (emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, hyperactivity/inattention, conduct problems, prosocial behaviours) ascertained by three measures (at the ages of three, 5.5 and eight years) of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. They then compared children who had been in a childminder’s care or in centre-based childcare (from birth to the age of three years) with those in informal childcare.

They reported that after adjusting for selection and confounding factors, compared with children in informal childcare, those who attended centre-based childcare had a significantly lower likelihood of having high levels of emotional symptoms (adjusted odds ratio OR 0.35), peer relationship problems (OR 0.31) and low prosocial behaviours (OR 0.50). Children who were looked after by a childminder had a significantly higher likelihood of following a high trajectory of conduct problems (OR 1.72).

They added that attendance at centre-based childcare for more than one year was especially protective of high levels of emotional, peer-related difficulties and low prosocial behaviours; and that girls and children from a favourable socioeconomic background reaped more benefits from centre-based childcare than boys and those from a less favourable background.

The study authors suggested that the apparent benefit of centre-based childcare might reflect a combination of the mental stimulus derived from play, praise, and reading, along with rules to follow, and quality child-caregiver interactions.

They acknowledged that their study could not show cause and effect; and that they could not assess the quality of, or time spent in, a particular type of childcare. And they said more research is needed to confirm these benefits on psychological development, and whether they translate to a reduced likelihood of psychiatric disorders later in life.

They concluded: “Access to high quality childcare in the first years of life may improve children's emotional and cognitive development, prevent later emotional difficulties and promote prosocial behaviours.”

*Gomajee R, El-Khoury F, Côté S, et al. Early childcare type predicts children’s emotional and behavioural trajectories into middle childhood. Data from the EDEN mother-child cohort study. J Epidemiol Community Health. Epub ahead of print: 1 October 2018. doi:10.1136/jech-2017-210393.

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