Childcare by Mothers with Low Education Levels More Likely to Lead to Aggresive Child Behavior

In a recent study of mothers with low education levels and their children, those kids receiving regular care from adults other than their mothers during their preschool years were found to exhibit less physical aggression, such as hitting, kicking or biting.

"The origin of physical aggression problems can be traced back to early childhood, and studies have specifically shown that maternal characteristics, especially low levels of education, are among the best predictors of high physical aggression from early childhood to adolescence," the study’s authors write.

Sylvana M. Cote, Ph.D. of the University of Montreal and colleagues studies 1,795 infants, a cross-section of all children born in Montreal in 1997 and 1998. Mothers were asked to provide information on family, parent and child characteristics from when the child was 5 months to 60 months, including details of adult non-maternal care provided, including daycare centers, family arrangements or other non-maternal care provided regularly during preschool years.

Overall, 1,691 children were followed for the whole study, of which 111 (6.6 percent) received no non-maternal care before preschool, 234 (13.8 percent) received some type of non-maternal care beginning before age 9 months and 1,346 (79.6 percent) received non-maternal care beginning at age 9 months or after.

Children whose mothers had a low education level (i.e., did not have a high school diploma) were less likely to receive daycare. However, those children who did receive non-maternal care had lower levels of physical aggression, and the association was statistically significant among children who started day care before age 9 months.

Children of mothers who graduated from high school were at lower risk of developing physical aggression problems, and non-maternal care had no additional effect on their behavior.

The study’s authors conclude that "provision of non-maternal care services to children of mothers with low levels of education could substantially reduce their risk of chronic physical aggression, and that the protective impact is more important if children begin to receive these services before age 9 months… Because the children most likely to benefit from non-maternal care services are those less likely to receive them, universal programs involving the provision of non-maternal care should include special measures encouraging the use of non-maternal care services among high-risk families."

The study was supported by the Quebec Government Ministry of Health and Fond, Quebecois de la Recherche sur la Societe et la Culture, Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, St-Justine Hospital’s Research Center and the University of Montreal.

Source: Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(11):1305-1312.

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