Want aggressive kids with good vocabularies? Daycare is the answer

The results of a major study about daycare were released this week in which the most talked about finding has been the fact that children who were in daycare centers before the age of 5 were found to be more aggressive than their peers and more likely to create behavior problems in class many years later in 6th grade.  The difference was small, but statistically significant.  Those who attended “high quality” centers were also found to have a slight advantage on vocabulary scores in 6th grade.  Though the researchers have confidence in the existence of these effects, they were actually quite modest– that of course does not sell newspapers and create controversy about daycare.  Of course, the question is why should these kids create more trouble in school.  I've got two theories that have nothing to do with the actual daycare experience. 

1) Parents whose children spend large amounts of time in daycare are more likely to feel guilty (see my earlier post on “mommy guilt“) about it and hence over-indulge their children, i.e., let them get away with more bad behavior.  Hence, these kids will grow up not behaving as well. 

2) Parents who do not rely on daycare, largely stay-at-home moms, are more likely to hold traditional values with regards to family and discipline and therefore have kids who are more disciplined, i.e., better behaved, in school.

I was quite intrigued when the MSNBC article I linked to said that the study “controlled for parent quality.”  Really– just how do they measure that?  From my reading of the actual study, their measure of parent quality was “years or maternal education.”  I don't know about that.  On the bright side, this means that my kids benefit from the best parental quality on the block. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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