Evidence points to infants having a more balanced development by interacting regularly with their peers and other adults in a safe environment.
Since the 1950s women’s participation in the workplace has increased and as a result today many families depend on child care to be a caregiver to their young children during working hours. The debate as to whether this has any harmful effects on the child is still a hotly debated topic. In today’s society some women give up their careers to rear their children while others are happy to mix their careers with child rearing and depend on child care to fill the gap.
When psychologists look to answer this question attachment theory is the most commonly used framework. Since the 1950s attachment theory has given us a lot of insight as to effect on children’s development when using day-care.
It takes a village to raise a child
The proverb is believed to have its origins in Nigeria but can also be applied to Western society. As we have moved from a collective society to a more individualist society the people available to help raise children has diminished. In the collective society it was indeed the village who raised the children as children often spent a lot of time in the company of other children and adults on farms and in communities where the labour was shared and as a result were exposed to society and peers from an early age. When this is considered in relation to the research carried out by Harry Harlow which showed that social interaction early in life is key to normal development.
In this respect, while the affection of a mother cannot be underestimated the interaction with peers is also of critical importance to normal development. Child care has replaced the community and a 2001 NICDH report showed that the use of non-parental care by itself does not affect attachment quality. The report also goes on to say that the quality of care is critical. This can be a weakness if proper regulation is not in place and emphasises the importance of government programs to support child care.
Research by Mary Ainsworth called the strange situation paradigm identified three types of behaviour when infants are introduced to new situations and people, these behaviours include being insecure when separated from mother and secure when mother returns. While these behaviours are undesirable there is no evidence to suggest that it has any lasting impact.
Recent research by Marinus Van IJzendoor has developed a programme based on video feedback by trained psychologists to parents identifying areas when they can improve their parenting skills. This can lead to individual programmes developed for families. Programmes such as these in conjunction with quality child care can strengthen the quality-of-care infants receive in the home and strengthen the mother-child bond.
Peace of mind
There can be little doubt that women entering the workforce has added to the economy of many countries and research indicates this can be done successfully without damaging the attachment bond to their infant. However, the research also shows that the quality of child care is important. When the quality of child care is high and individual programs made available to help parents, I believe the outcome for children can be very positive and may even lead to a more rounded individual. So, with a balance between high-quality day-care and parents’ affection women can continue to work knowing their child’s development is not being compromised.
Michael O Sullivan is an author based in the West Coast of Ireland. He is doing an online psychological course at Northumbria University.
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