Is There a Worst Age to Start Daycare? The Age Debate

baby playing with airplane in daycare

Parents who start daycare early often believe that the earlier their child gets used to spending time with others, the better off they’ll be in the long run. However, new research suggests that this isn’t necessarily true and could even be harmful to your child. Read on to learn more about the risks of starting child care early and how you can help your baby prepare for this change as he or she grows older.

According to Science

Parents make many decisions in the first year of their child’s life, and one of the most important (yet often overlooked) is when to start daycare. Research has shown that putting your child in a daycare center before he or she turns one can have an adverse effect on the child’s emotional development, especially their cognitive well-being. Various reasons for this exist, but recent studies point towards the brain being in great need of care and attention for those first few years.

In this study, children cared for by substitute caregivers other than parents suffered setbacks in intellectual development and physical problems related to eating, sleep, anxiety, and positive parent-child relations. Until a child is one year old, infants should be cared for by a mother or father.

That being said, there is no best age to begin daycare. Only a minimum suggested age of one year. It is common for some parents to send their children to daycare as early as eight weeks of age, while others wait until their children are a few years old. Although 12 months is often considered the minimum age for starting daycare, there is no guarantee that your child will be ready for daycare at that age, nor is it impossible for your child to be prepared earlier.

The Worst Age to Start Daycare

Generally, less than one year old can be considered the worst age to start daycare. However, you should also consider other factors before putting your child in a daycare center. When it comes to kids, it is inadvisable to put them in daycare if they are not socially, emotionally, and physically capable.

Deciding whether or not to send your child to daycare requires considering many things, but ultimately the decision is up to you and can be made with your child’s personality and interests in mind. Consider your circumstances and where your child will be going.

Risks of Starting Daycare Too Early

Parents face many risks when deciding when their children should start daycare. Parents need to know about the benefits and risks of proceeding with daycare early or later in a child’s development.

Increased Stress Levels

Getting started with daycare at an earlier age can lead to increased stress levels for both the parents and the child. Studies have shown that children who start daycare before they turn two experience greater levels of stress and anxiety than children who start daycare after their second birthday. Other studies show that early-start kids also have an increased risk of developing health problems. Moreover, it can also affect their feeding and sleep patterns.

Children attending daycare services have shown significant increases in cortisol or stress hormone levels mid-afternoon compared to children at home. In addition, children under three years of age showed the greatest increase in cortisol levels.

Despite consistent attendance at daycare for a long time, this pattern of elevated stress hormone was found even in children who did not simply experience an adjustment period to the new environment in daycare settings.

During the day, cortisol levels in humans fluctuate naturally. They are usually highest in the morning and lowest in the evening to support natural sleep-arousal cycles.

The hypothesis is that children experience a considerable amount of peer interaction in daycare centers, which leads to their stress levels rising.

Poorer Parent-Child Attachment

It can be tempting for parents to start the child in daycare at a very young age, but research has shown that when children are placed in daycare before they are 12 months old, they have poorer parent-child attachment.

Stability and continuity of care are very important during the earliest years of a child’s life. That is when infants should get one-on-one attention from a single caregiver, who should consider the child’s needs.

Providing highly sensitive one-on-one care allows children to recognize their primary caregivers and form strong attachment bonds, making them feel protected and safe.

As a result of the reduced amount of time the child can spend with his or her parents, enrolling a child in daycare too early and for too many hours can result in impaired or insecure parental-attachment bonds.

Regarding forming secure parent-child attachments, daycare does not constitute the deciding factor. Maternal sensitivity plays a much more significant role.

Putting very young children in daycare is not necessarily harmful or disruptive to the parent-child attachment. Researchers have found that daycare negatively impacts parent-child attachments only when parents’ sensitivity to the child is low, the quality of the daycare facility is poor and long periods of non-parental care are present.

As long as the ratio of caregivers to children is low, daycare can be a good option for young children and toddlers, as consistent caregivers are more likely to get to know their charges and respond to their needs sooner.

Behavioral Issues and Aggression

When a child begins daycare, they are suddenly faced with the responsibility of learning to share and be around other children. This can lead to behavioral issues, anxiety, aggression, and attachment problems. One study found that 68% of parents think their child’s behavior has gotten worse after starting daycare. In some cases, this aggression may be a sign of separation anxiety. A child will begin acting out when they want attention and feel neglected or abandoned.

According to a study from the Journal of Early Child Development and Care, behavioral problems, aggression, and poor social behavior are associated with entry into long hours of non-parental childcare before the first birthday.

Regardless of the number of hours spent in daycare, high-quality daycare services can lead to better pro-social behaviors and less aggression in children.

Things to Consider Before Putting Your Child (of any age) In Daycare

If you’re considering putting your child in preschool or daycare, there are a few factors that you’ll want to consider first.

Your Child’s Readiness

Many parents believe that the younger their children are, the more prepared they will be for daycare. However, this may not always be the case. Many factors come into play regarding a child’s readiness, and age is only one. The best time for your child to start daycare will depend on his or her emotional and social development and physical development, what type of daycare he or she will attend, and what activities he or she currently enjoys.

Length of Time in Daycare

The experience for younger children is typically difficult in a daycare environment. While daycare can be an enriching experience for toddlers and older kids, too much daycare may lead to increased stress.

When children are shy and reserved, they are more likely to experience emotional stress at daycare. Short-term transitions into non-parental childcare may help decrease this stress.

To lessen the stress, only allow daycare attendance for small periods, especially for young children. Additionally, if you know your child is susceptible to anxiety, you might also want to include at-home childcare options. As your child becomes older and more comfortable with the daycare, you can take them to the facility for more daily hours.

Quality of Daycare Services

Some people believe that starting daycare services earlier, such as when a child is younger than two years old, will allow children more time to form bonds with caregivers and better prepare them for school. However, with these many benefits, certain drawbacks come with this strategy. One of the main disadvantages of starting daycare services in early childhood is the quality of care the children receive.

An ideal childcare center has a caring and sensitive environment with licensed, trained staff, with low caregiver-to-child ratios to ensure that every child’s needs are met. This is especially true if your child is high needs, has medical or dietary requirements, or is an infant under 15 months of age.

How To Know If A Baby Is Ready For Daycare?

When your child is ready for daycare, there are five indicators.

Observable Curiosity

In most children, curiosity becomes noticeable around 12 months old when they begin interacting with strangers. Exposure to new people and environments makes them less afraid and more confident in daycare.

Mastering Potty Training

Potty-trained children do much better in daycare. You’ll find that your child can focus better and is more aware of when they have to go, making the experience positive.

Increased Interactiveness

In a daycare, a young child can interact with other children and meet people they may not otherwise meet. Those who are at ease in the company of children and who love playing with them are ready to be admitted to daycare. It is normal for them to have a rough first few days, but often they will get used to socializing within a short period.

Starts Displaying Independence

Showing increased levels of independence and taking care of themselves is one sign that a child can handle being in daycare.

This implies no need for daily assistance, such as for everyday chores like walking, playing, eating, dressing, and using the bathroom.

Adhere To Rules And Adjust To Routines

You may have to abide by certain rules or follow specific routines if you send your children to daycare, such as waiting in line for breaks or sticking to naptime schedules. When you teach your children at home to follow the rules and establish routines, they will more easily adjust to doing the same at daycare.


When Should You Not Send Your Child To Daycare Centers?

Some children are not healthy or are showing symptoms of illness. It’s a good idea for the daycare provider to be able to identify these conditions and notify parents so they can treat their child before sending them back.

How long does a year old take to adjust to a daycare center?

It takes a one-year-old anywhere from two weeks to two months to adjust to daycare.

Do babies feel abandoned at daycare?

Babies can understand that when they can’t see mom or dad, they’ve gone away. However, they don’t understand the concept of time, so they don’t know mom will come back and can become upset by her absence; thus, daycare children can fall into separation anxiety, especially if they are older.

What Is The Average Cost Of Daycare?

The average monthly daycare cost in the US is around 800$ to 850$.

What Is The Best and Worst Age To Start Daycare?

There is no such thing as the best age to start daycare because it depends on your child’s ability and readiness; however, the recommended minimum age to start daycare is one year old.

Can early childcare have any negative impacts on a young child?

Research has shown the potential negative effects of daycare on child development are not completely due to their very young age but also to low-quality daycare settings. A low-quality daycare may have insufficient resources that fail to meet each child’s social, emotional, and cognitive needs, which are necessary for developing their cognitive skills and emotional maturity.