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  • Writer's pictureLena Agree JD, PsyD

Ask Dr. Agree: How Daycare Can Adversely Affect Your Child’s Development

A woman holding two children that are playing

I am often asked by parents why they should choose a nanny over daycare. Although several reasons come to mind, one in particular stands out to me because it’s so important, yet often overlooked in mainstream discussion. This factor is: touch.


Connections and Physical Touch

When considering childcare options, you probably haven’t given much thought to the importance of touch. But it’s a significant issue, because your child requires nurturing touch for optimal development, but isn’t likely to get it in most daycare environments.

 

No matter what our age, we, as humans, need physical touch and connection with others in order to feel OK. The extent to which you, as an adult, experience the world as predictable and manageable, and yourself as lovable, competent and capable of intimacy, has a great deal to do with your experience of emotional security in your early years. Being lovingly touched is a vital aspect of this early foundation.


Physical touch affects us in myriad ways. Here are just a few: 

· It communicates warmth and care

· It physiologically calms us (it stimulates oxytocin (the “love” hormone) and reduces cortisol (the stress hormone)

· It fosters a sense of connection and closeness

· It conveys attention, interest and support


All humans need physical contact, but infants and children need it most, because they’re growing quickly, and being touched, or not touched when they need it, affects the physiology of their developing brains.


Being frequently held, cuddled, and touched in loving ways supports your child’s ability to:

· Develop Trust

· Regulate Emotions

· Feel Supported and Safe

· Calm Down


Consider the quieting effect of rocking a baby, reading a book to a child nestled in your lap, or holding and comforting an upset toddler. These examples highlight the power of touch in day-to-day interactions with children.


One problem with daycare is a deficiency of touch. Due to parents’ concerns over physical and sexual abuse, together with daycare workers’ fears of these allegations, most facilities have policies that strictly limit touch.  As a parent, these rules can provide comfort; however, an unintended consequence of these fears has been the creation of an environment where physical contact isn’t generally available. This can put inordinate stress on children to self-soothe prematurely - before they have developed the capacity to soothe themselves effectively. Over time, this dynamic could negatively impact a child’s ability to feel calm, manage emotions, and develop a secure attachment.


Daycare vs. Nanny? Let Center for Nanny Assessment Help You Decide

If you’re looking at full-time childcare and weighing the pluses and minuses of daycare vs. a nanny, the frequency of touch is a factor that shouldn’t be neglected. A loving, trustworthy nanny has the freedom to provide the consistent physical affection your children need for optimal development. These interactions are much more important at this stage than any additional socialization your child might experience in daycare.


If a full-time nanny is not an option for you, then I’d recommend seeking out a daycare facility where affectionate, appropriate, touch is a consistent feature of the relationship between the staff and children. You can do this by asking specifically about their touch policies and visiting them so you can see for yourself how the staff physically interacts with the children.


If you’re concerned about finding a nanny you can trust, or the best daycare for your child, we can help. With our comprehensive assessment and professional support, our expertise and experience will help you make the right decision without the headache. 


If you want to know more about the importance of touch, check out our article on warmth, and why it’s a vital trait to assess in anyone taking care of your child.


References

Keeping the Caring Touch in Early Childhood. Penn State Extension; Better Kid Care. https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/keeping-the-caring-touch-in-early-childhood


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