Working parents have long been battling feelings of guilt as they try to juggle spending time with their children and earning a crust. But a new combined study from Oxford University and the London School of Economics has revealed that children whose parents both go out to work actually develop faster than those who stay at home full-time.
The study found that children whose mothers were not working had lower capabilities and had a 5 per cent negative impact on social and everyday skills.
Those who attended nursery had a 10 per cent positive impact on everyday skills while children who spent more time with grandparents showed a 5 per cent boost in conversing skills and performed 10 per cent better socially.
Co-author Laurence Roope, of Oxford University, says the study proves that spending time in daycare has a “positive effect” on children.
“It should give parents some reassurance that nurseries are not going to harm their children, and are likely to be beneficial,” he says.
“It seems that what is important is engaging in interactive activities. It could be there is a trade-off. Going out to work brings in more money for the family, which leads to more financial security and the ability to partake in more activities.”
Child psychologist Dr David Carey agrees. “This study should offer badly needed reassurance to parents who feel guilty about sending their young children to a creche or pre-school,” says the Dublin-based expert. “The main factor involved seems to be the opportunity to engage in interesting and stimulating activities with peers. This is a common feature of appropriate early childhood education. Children who are reared by a single caregiver often do not have the intensive interaction with other children that those in early years settings do.
“Language stimulation, play stimulation and active learning environments with a group of children are all the factors which can improve a child’s rate of learning and development. These things can be supplied at home of course but it is often the case that the stay-at-home parent is isolated, tired and stressed, making it difficult to provide what the early years setting provides.”
However, Carey says parents should not be too alarmed by the results as development usually balances out when children start school.
“Most children catch up when entering primary school,” he says. “Those with a huge head-start are more advanced but, in the end, social and emotional development evens out for the average child.
“The best single thing you can do for your children if you are a stay-at-home parent is to give them chances to interact with other children, to encourage exploration of the environment and free play, to limit access to screen technology, to talk with them, to bring in the extended family and to simply enjoy their unusual and engaging ways of being in the world.”
Dr Claire Moran runs her own fertility clinic, simplyconceive.ie, and also has three children – Dylan (5), Freddie (3) and Emily (1). Both she and her husband, David, work full-time and she agrees with the report saying interaction with other youngsters has been hugely beneficial to her children.
“I agree 100 per cent with this study,” she says. “Being in a creche environment has exposed my children to activities such as painting, drawing, writing, singing and performing at an earlier age than I would have provided them with at home. This level of social interaction from an early age teaches them the life skills to become confident about themselves and their relationships with others.
“So I am happy with my decision to be a working mum as I feel that my children and I benefit in our own ways. I hear so many reports of young children spending too much time with TV and tablets so I am glad that mine spend their day playing and interacting with children of their own age.”
But Laura Erskine, spokeswoman for mummypages.ie, says many stay-at-home mothers are skeptical about the results.
“Our MummyPages mums really don’t appreciate this study which declares that time spent at home during the early years will hinder the development,” she says. “Being a stay-at-home-mum is particularly tough as it also involves running the home and often caring for more than one child. It’s obvious that the results of this study are hinged on the fact that mums with their strong emotional bond, tend to anticipate their child’s needs ahead of time which can hinder their speech and physical skills development compared with children cared for outside the home.
“Of course, having the time to engage in developmental play is critically important as is exposing your child to plenty of social interactions with other adults and children. Our stay-at-home mums strive to provide these opportunities through focused play and playdates with our mums and groups of local mums.”
Erskine says stay-at-home mothers in Ireland would benefit from a greater availability of social outlets.
“The training regarding developmental milestones and the mental and physical capabilities of children is something that centre-based childcare workers have an advantage on due to their training,” she says. “This is certainly something which could be improved through community health centres and parenting guidance classes.
“The compulsory antenatal classes only educate a new mum as to how to give birth and care for her baby in the initial weeks of life. More should be done at Government level to support new parents in parenting effectively, which can only lead to a better outcome for society as well as our economy.”
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
was reluctant to put too much emphasis on comparing developmental milestones of Irish children.
“The study referred to is based on data drawn from a German Socio-Economic Panel Survey and its primary goal was to evaluate the workability and reach of the ‘capability approach’ as a theory for understanding the economics of life quality, rather than to evaluate different means of provision of childcare,” says a spokesperson.
“As such, we would be cautious about assuming that any findings can translate directly to Irish childcare provision. A recent report on childcare and socio-emotional outcomes by the ESRI examined the effects of experiencing non-parental childcare at age three on children’s socio-emotional development at age five. This report suggested that there is little difference in socio-emotional outcomes for children at age five based on the type of childcare at three.
“The ESRI report provided some evidence that centre-based care provides more beneficial effects for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the effects were relatively small. The study also noted that family financial difficulties such as debt problems and difficulty making ends meet were associated with poorer outcomes for children.”
The universal free-pre-school (ECCE) programme is available to all children above the age of three, prior to school entry and the department encourages parents to avail of this scheme.