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I am a new parent to an 8-month-old boy. We are in a dilemma about whether to put the child in daycare (both parents are working) or take care of him at home (wife would have to leave her job).

I have come across a few people who have suggested that kids with daycare background are often antisocial and emotionally more unstable.

Are there any studies or proofs to support this or this may be a perception?

PS: The first week of daycare has been a "meh" so far!

  • Are kids without a daycare background antisocial? More insular? Less able to function in large number situations? – Solar Mike Sep 3 at 19:54
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    You also might consider this. There may be a correlation between kids being in daycare and "antisocial" behavior, but may not be causal. Parents who do not enjoy interacting with their children are more likely to drop their kids off at day care so they can keep their jobs; this may have skewed the data slightly. I think a more important consideration should be whether your wife would be happy staying at home. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Sep 4 at 14:36
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    @Francine DeGrood Taylor +1 your comment because the person staying home’s happiness/capability is SUCH an important consideration, that (I think) doesn’t get enough weight. Having a miserable, depressed stay at home mom just can’t be good-for the kids, the marriage, the woman (or a man, for a stay at home dad situation), and then, ultimately, society. Some people just aren’t capable of performing well as a SAHP (stay at home parent) for one reason or another. Like any other job, engagement is the key to success. Just cuz they r your kids doesn’t mean you’ll love it...day after day. – Jax Sep 4 at 19:41
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    And, maybe the parents are dropping them off because they are antisocial. I certainly wish I could drop mine off somewhere some days! ;-) – Jax Sep 4 at 19:42
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    If I can ask you to do one thing, please don't rely on research "studies" to educate your child! – David Sep 6 at 9:32
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Are kids with daycare background antisocial?

I'll assume you mean

Are kids with daycare background measurably more antisocial than their non-daycare peers?

There are several studies which point in that direction, though it also seems that the negative effects are not very pronounced, they are not evident in all child care centers (in fact, results are very diverse) and mitigated by a large set of factors such as available room at the day care center, staff friendliness, day structure etc and that there are also other, positive effects. So, the answer to your question would be: It's complicated.

See for example a large-scale UK government funded study published in 2007 - Mathers & Sylva, National Evaluation of the Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative: The Relationship between Quality and Children's Behavioural Development, which is probably where the "antisocial" thing comes from (this finding from the study was picked up by UK media at the time):

The findings confirm previous research (e.g. Melhuish et al, 2001) in suggesting that attending centre-based childcare provision has both beneficial and detrimental effects on children’s social and behavioural development. The more time (hours and days) children spent each week at a childcare centre, the more confident they were, and the more sociable they were with their peers

and a bit later:

Attending centre-based provision also had a number of less positive relationships with children’s behaviour. Children who attended for at least 30 hours and/or 3 days every week were rated as more anti-social, for example more likely to tease other children and call them names (ASBI item 21), prevent other children from carrying out routines (item 23) or be bossy and need their own way (item 29). In addition, children who attended for at least 35 hours and/or 5 days each week displayed more worried and upset behaviours.

There are other studies (behind paywall) that may be relevant:

My personal opinion is that I wouldn't want to put my child into daycare for five days a week; that's giving away too much of my influence as a parent (remember that the time when your children are little and need you most is over quickly and never comes back - so if it's an either - or - situation -- either put your child into daycare for 5 days a week, or reduce work and take care of him yourself, I'd opt for taking care of him myself if financially that's an option. You won't regret not having worked so much at the end of your life - but you might regret not having spent the time with your child. Having said that, I wouldn't worry about putting my children into daycare for maybe 2-3 days.

FWIW, the study I cited above talks about a tipping point of around 30 hours a week and/or 3 days per week for the negative effects (less than that and they don't manifest themselves). Similarly, significant benefits didn't reliably manifest themselves in children that spend less than 35 hours a week in daycare (that's almost full-time).

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    So it seems that you get a better socialized kid, but at some point you give up being a strong enough influence to prevent them from acting like a jerk. In the spirit of "it's complicated" a pair of parents out for five days a week at work with a new and expensive daycare bill aren't going to have as much spare mental capacity to engage with their child and address issues, no matter how good the day care is. – Jeffrey Hulten Sep 4 at 0:33
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    @Jeffrey, from personal experience, you definitely have more mental capacity to deal with your children if you have been away from them for 5 days :-) – Rory Alsop Sep 4 at 18:21
  • @Pascal did you happen to come across any studies about the benefits of mixed ages in a day care setting? I think I read somewhere that the trouble with daycare is that the typical homogenous age grouping is at least partially to blame for the increase in “bad behaviors.” In in-home settings, where children of mixed ages are supervised together, younger children pick up more “civilized” behaviors from the older kids, so they are generally better behaved. Am I delusional? Anyone else ever hear of such a thing? – Jax Sep 6 at 1:12
  • @Jax: I wouldn't know of any studies about this, but our primary school teachers have recently switched to mixed-aged classes for grades 1-3 and 3-6 and don't ever want to go back to the old same-age classes. They say that mobbing problems and a host of other conflicts have pretty much disappeared with the new system. – Pascal Sep 6 at 18:39
  • @Pascal that’s interesting! Back to the old one-room school house model, sort of. As long as they don’t have separate entrances for boys and girls (like back in the day) I’d support our school system doing that too. – Jax Sep 6 at 19:20
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The other answer gave really good research background into this, but please keep in mind something when reading this research:

  • The sample set is often small (a few daycare/children surveyed)... For example, the "large scale UK study" that the other answer linked surveyed about 800 kids in 100 different daycares. Which sounds like a lot until you realize that there are 3.9 million children under the age of 5 in the UK, so the study surveyed a total of 0.0205% of the children (probably a bit more since it focused on kids 20-42mo). Either way it is hard to draw a hard-line conclusion from such a small sample set.
  • "Social-ability" or "anti-social-ness" is not an empirical measurement. Kids behavior changes with the wind.
  • Usually these studies do not survey a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. For example they may only survey one or two daycares in a predominately one-race/economic area.
  • These studies usually do not follow the child through development, and children at that age especially develop socially at different rates and with different "stages". These studies are simply a "snapshot" in time, not a long term study.
  • They don't take into account the childs home-life. If they have parents who fight they will mimic that behavior, same with older siblings or broken families.

That being said all I have left is personal experience. Our children (now age 4 and 5) have been in daycare since the age of 8 weeks. They went through phases in daycare that would have branded them "anti-social" if surveyed at the right time:

  • Preferred to play alone on occasion
  • Demonstrated tendencies to bite, kick, hit, etc. the classmates
  • General disobedience for directions given by the instructor

That being said, kids go through those phases when they are learning how to interact with peers on a social level. They don't have the skills to say "no thank you, not right now" so they lash out with biting/violence. They are testing boundaries so they may disobey. They are adjusting to schedules/nap times so they get cranky. They prefer to experience a toy or activity without having to share, so they play alone...

My personal view is that having these interactions helps them cope with navigating a social environment. They are gaining skills to read a situation and respond accordingly and appropriately. They are learning what boundaries are and what consequences mean. This does not mean they are anti-social, they are simply learning how to "fit-in" and still be individuals.

Again, my own children went through those phases and they can last anywhere from a couple weeks to many months. Once they are ready to move out of that, they stop exhibiting those behaviors and learn to fit in with their peers much better.

Now, both of my children have no problem becoming "best friends" with peers that they meet at a playground for the first time. It's actually quite humbling that my kids can run up to somebody new, somebody they observe for a few minutes, and determine that they can interact with those in a way that is fun for all of them. This is something we lose as adults!

On the flip side I'm not so sure that a child that is kept in the company of close friends/family can have those same experiences. Kids that are kept home and even home-schooled grow up to be normal functioning adults. I'd venture to say that trying to say kids are anti-social if they are in daycare vs those who are not may be splitting hairs, especially given the sample size and longevity of the "study".

My children (and many of their peers) are in daycare 40+ hours a week, and this is quite normal nowdays. We live in a society where both parents need to work to be able to afford a home, food, and entertainment for the family. Nobody should ever feel ashamed to need to put their kids in childcare so that they can provide for their family, and no parent should worry about the social outcome of the children that are there.

If you have a bad experience with a daycare (and there are good and bad ones), try moving your child to a new place (but not too often). It may take them time to adjust but you will notice if the staff truly cares about your child and their emotional development.

  • I agree with your doubts about how anti-social behavior can even be reliably measured in kids. In fact, I don't even like the term "anti-social". If the OP hadn't explicitly asked for studies on the subject, I would have answered along the lines of your answer. I wouldn't disregard the study I cited due to it's sample being too small; though; in fact I think that a survey of 100 day care centers is pretty good. You're looking at a small percentage of all pre-school kids in the UK, but that's not the relevant measure - the study isn't trying to extrapolate it's findings to all preschoolers. – Pascal Sep 6 at 21:35
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    I think kids are more “chimp-like” than antisocial. In fact, I think some of the behaviors/characteristics that would classify an adult as antisocial are considered normal in children, which is what this answer is saying. Biting is def not desirable, but it’s totally normal for a toddler – Jax Sep 7 at 1:55
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    "Kids behavior changes with the wind" is the most understated sentence of the century – James Khoury Sep 9 at 4:28
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Being parent to 2 kids, I do not think this is true. In my opinion, your kid is social or antisocial depends on

  • Nature of kid -- Some kids are inherently shy and do not like to mingle.
  • Social circle of parents -- If you as parent don't have much of a social circle, your kid will not have much interaction, other than school and daycare.
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I was lucky enough to be able to have my baby boy at home until he was two. He was 100% social, smiling al people and accepting friends, relatives, and even strangers (to him, not to me ie a foreign aunt on visit after 5 years) to hug and play with him.

However, he was not a talking child. Just basic words like "mom" "dad" "yes" "no" "water" etc.

One week after starting the daycare activities he started talking with complete sentences. I'm sure he was getting ready for that moment, but he never felt the need to talk until he had a new social environment of his own.

I think it's a great experience for the kids.

And based on my own experience, for the moms, having time to develop a career or even have time for other personal activities help them to grow as an independent person.

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