It was early 2001 when a study was released that claimed children who attend daycare facilities tend to be more aggressive than those who stay at home with a parent. Since both Amy and I worked, the release of the study coinciding with the pending arrival of our first child added stress to a situation about which we already had many questions. Like many parents, one of the questions we were already struggling to answer was whether we were going to use daycare, or have one of us stay at home to raise Georgie. Then we had this added burden on our conscious. Families across the country, including right here in Brownwood, struggle with the decision of whether or not both parents should return to work or if one should stay at home with the new addition. In some cases it is a matter of economics, while in others it is a decision about careers and futures.
Many researchers, including some involved with the study, urged parents not to overreact to the findings and to continue with whatever plans they had already had put into place. Some experts said the study pointed out the need for a nationwide push for improved child-care options. And still other experts said that the differences in behavior cited in the study were not significant compared to other children’s age groups. For many parents, though, the results were no surprise.
One problem facing our society today is that as a public, we are looking for answers to our own individual questions to come to us from others. A generation ago, it was Dr. Benjamin Spock and the suggestions found in his book that helped raise many baby boomers’ children. Today there are dozens of parenting books. Suggestions and guidelines established by experts certainly have a place in society, including child care, but the best place for decisions like this to be made are in the home. Someone actually involved in a situation can best look at individual circumstances, evaluate the options and develop a solution. The home is where most behavioral conditions are learned and ultimately need to be addressed.
The study suggested that children should spend no more than 30 hours a week in daycare if possible. What the study did not address was how the time away from daycare facilities should be spent. If the child is at home sitting mindlessly in front of a television or playing violent video games, nothing is accomplished. It comes down to how time at home is spent, what activities a child and its parents engage in together, that is going to shape behavior and development. As parents, we should devote more time reading and playing with our children and correcting bad behavior as it arises. Then the issue of aggressive or unacceptable behavior becomes less of an issue.
Parents cannot rely on daycare facilities to raise their children or teach them character or values. Those are things learned in the home, learned by watching how we as adults behave and treat each other. When we delegate that responsibility to someone else, no matter what the circumstance, our own values stand a pretty good risk of being lost.
There were some positive findings that came out of the study, though. Children in daycare facilities seem to have better language, thinking and social skills. Like behavior, though, those traits are ultimately fostered in the home, through interaction between parent and child. The phrase “quality time” has become overused and cliche in today’s society. When raising children it takes both quality and quantity time. Parents that choose to use daycare are not making a bad decision, but they must commit themselves to providing a home environment that fosters creativity and reinforces the positive values and character traits society demands.
Bill Crist is associate publisher and general manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.