Kids Need Compassionate Care

When Memphis police officers answered a complaint call about loud crying babies, they could hear them as soon as they got out of their patrol car. When they entered the house, they found seven infants – four of them crying – in baby seats positioned in front of two television sets tuned to a morning talk show.

Two people – a woman and her young daughter – were taking care of the infants while their parents worked. The babies were physically cared for, but they were not getting the personal interactions that promote cognitive, social, and emotional development.

There was little hugging and cuddling and no time spent on reading or active play. Television was being used as a substitute for personal attention. However, babies and toddlers are social learners and exposure to television can actually have a negative impact on healthy development.

All in all, the childcare situation was a reminder of the difficulty in finding quality childcare in some parts of Memphis, but it was also a reminder of how poor childcare during the crucial first three years can undermine the foundation for cognitive, social, and emotional development.

High Quality Care Can Help Children Develop Healthy Attachment

A child who experiences sensitive caregiving in the first three years of life tends to develop a strong sense of safety, security and trust in the adults closest to him. Researchers call this attachment, and it is a critical part of early development. The first attachments are created with parents, but for children in childcare, relationships with their caregivers are also important. An infant who spends a majority of his day with a childcare provider who doesn’t show warmth or sensitivity is at a disadvantage when it comes to forming secure attachment.

Because regular childcare outside the home has become the norm for young children in recent decades, there is a large body of research on how time spent in non-parental care may affect development. While there’s a notable lack of consensus on most aspects of this issue, there is one area of widespread agreement: the importance of quality.

Childcare arrangements vary widely in how well they serve children’s needs. Children in centers where supplies are short, salaries are meager, and staff turnover is high will naturally be affected differently than children in centers with well-trained, fairly-paid staff, and bright, child-friendly environments.

Healthy Attachment Helps Children Get Ready for Kindergarten

High quality childcare is associated with improvements in the cognitive, language, and behavioral skills young children need for kindergarten. As a result, few decisions are as important for parents as selecting the right child care provider for their infants. Smart parents know that early childcare is not just about finding someone to feed and change their baby while they are at work, but it is more accurately about childcare providers who take the time to form the emotional bonds and everyday routines that promote healthy attachment in the children they care for.

Few decisions are as important as selecting an infant child care provider! Tweet this!

More recently, researchers have been investigating the effects of child care stability. Stable childcare means that a child has one primary non-parental caregiver, as opposed to being shuffled among various providers. Stable, high-quality care appears to be especially important for infants and toddlers, who need to form secure attachments with caregivers they spend a significant amount of time with.

Another recurring theme in child care research is how high-quality care is especially beneficial for at-risk children. For children with poor or troubled home environments, the sensitive care and cognitive stimulation they receive in a high-quality center can have a buffering effect. That’s why quality child care has been described as a “naturally occurring intervention” for at-risk children.

All of us are unique, but in one aspect we are all the same: Our social adjustment and emotional well-being are already being wired into our brains during our first three years. It’s a reality that should make all of us – whether we are parents, community leaders, or citizens – committed to ensuring that infants and toddlers have the positive experiences and healthy attachments that build the best foundation for social and emotional well-being throughout life. Improving the availability of stable, high-quality early childcare is a crucial step toward this goal.