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This morning I came across two new studies that should matter to every parent.

The first, out of the Society for Research in Child Development, looks at how early childcare affects someone as a teen, linking childcare settings with academic achievement and behavioral issues. The second — out of the National Institute of Mental Health — found that a childcare provider’s behavior affects a child’s stress levels and behavior.

As a mom these studies make me upset. And worried. My kids have always had sitters. Yes, they were usually family members or people from our community who came into my home, but both kids have always been in some type of childcare. After reading the studies I had one pervasive thought: I hope that I made the right decisions when I picked my sitters. (For example, getting rid of the one who told me Big Girl required “too much attention,” when she was only three-months-old, and firing the one who just gave me a bad feeling.)

The first study gave me the biggest problem — and the most hope. It says that teens who spent more hours in early child care (four-and-a-half years and under) reported more risk-taking and greater impulsivity than their peers who spent fewer hours in childcare. It also says that teens who participated in higher-quality programs had fewer behavior problems defined as “rule-breaking, arguing, and hanging out with peers who get in trouble.” Just as important: teens who attended programs with “higher-quality care during early childhood scored higher on tests of cognitive and academic achievement than teens who attended programs with lower-quality care.”

The second study didn’t really apply to me since my daughter was never in a home-run daycare between ages 3 and 4, but it’s still interesting since she did go to preschool five days a week during that time. It says that kids have an increase in cortisol levels when they are placed in a childcare setting that is more rigid than what they experience at home. Too much structure such as learning letters and too little playtime and free time stresses kids out.

I think the take away from both of the studies is simple: Trust your gut when it comes to picking a childcare provider — even if it’s a group setting or at a preschool. I hated the first preschool I tried. Hated it. Hated the teachers, too. I ended up pulling Big Girl out of that program and putting her in a program that certainly wasn’t as fancy or expensive. (It was only a third of the cost of the first program.) But she thrived there. She loved it. (And I liked the moms better, too.)

Were your kids ever in childcare? If so, how did you select the right one for your family?

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