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Childcare, emotional security linked

Regulation of emotions may not be a concept generally associated with young children but new research has suggested that those receiving quality early childcare may be quicker to develop emotional and behavioural maturity.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide examined data from a longitudinal study of 1038 Australian children to assess possible links between experiences in childcare at the ages of 2–3 and attention and emotional development through to school age.

The study found that children who experienced high-quality childcare and relationships with carers were more attentive and better able to regulate their emotions when starting school. This effect remained apparent through until age 6–7.

Lead researcher – and PhD student – Angela Gialamas, whose paper was published in the Journal of Paediatrics, said her research’s definition of high-quality care included elements such as positive interactions and high levels of affection or warmth between children and care providers. She said aspects such as the impact of a childcare providers’ level of education, professional development or the number of children in a group appeared to have little association with later development or attention levels.

“When we looked at provider and program characteristics of childcare, we didn’t see any statistical association [between] any of those factors [and emotional development],” Gialamas said. “But relationships with the carers were associated with both attention and emotion and we found that … high-quality activities such as kids spending more time doing activities like singing, telling stories and reading books were linked with better emotional regulation.”

Despite the many broad assumptions made about the value of childcare, she added, her work was the first Australian study to examine the relationship between quality care and childhood development.

“There is growing interest and awareness that the first few years of a child’s life before they start school have an important influence on their later development,” Gialamas said. “This study could provide valuable evidence to inform government, childcare providers and parents of the aspects of quality that contribute to children’s development.”

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