Study links day care, children's aggression

Experts say results could best be used for improving programs

April 20, 2001|By ASSOCATED PRESS

NEW YORK - For parents struggling to juggle work and child raising, the news compounded their daily dilemmas: A comprehensive study found that children who spend many hours in day care are more likely be aggressive and defiant.

But a researcher involved in the study, and other child-care experts, urged parents yesterday not to overreact. They suggested the best response would be a nationwide push for improved child-care options.

Some parents said they don't have the luxury of changing their lives anyway, regardless of what the experts say. Child care is their only option if they want to make ends meet.

"This will tap right into parents' guilt - it will feed the appetite of those who think child care is a bad idea in the first place," said Faith Wohl, president of the New York-based Child Care Action Campaign.

George Wiggins, a firefighter in the Louisville, Ky., suburb of St. Matthews, has sent his 3-year-old daughter to day care for the past two years while his wife attends college. There's no other choice, and his daughter is doing fairly well, he said.

"I'd certainly rather be able to stay with her during the day, but it comes down to what you can afford," Wiggins said.

The 10-year, 10-city research project, financed by a branch of the National Institutes of Health, is the largest, long-term study of American child care ever conducted.

Some of the findings should hearten parents who rely on child care: Researchers found that children in high-quality programs scored better on language and thinking tests than those who stayed home.

But researchers also found that children spending more than 30 hours a week in child care were almost three times as likely to exhibit aggression, disobedience and defiance as those in day care less than 10 hours a week.

Margaret Burchinal, a University of North Carolina researcher who oversaw the statistical side of the study, said she was concerned that news reports might cause unwarranted parental concerns.

"As a working mother, I was distressed," she said. Children in day care aren't turning into monsters, she said.

The aggressive behaviors displayed by children in the study "were typical of what you'd expect from a normal 4-year-old," she said.

For some parents, the study's findings were no surprise.

"To be honest, I actually agree with it," said Cheryl Sullivan of Minneapolis. She recently left her retail job to give birth to a second child and sends her 3-year-old son to a day-care program twice a week.

"The kids who are there five days a week, they're much more attention-getting, screaming and running around," she said. "They're apt to be the pushers and hitters."

Several experts said the study underscored the need for better salaries and training for child-care workers, paid parental leave and more flexible working hours for parents.

"Child care is a reality, and millions of families need to use it," said Gina Adams, director of child care for the Urban Institute in Washington.

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