Daycare misery

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This text is part of: "I would never send my kids to school" by Piotr Wozniak (2017)

Benefits of daycare

For many parents daycare is unavoidable. Daycare facilities keep improving. They use better science and better practices. They keep learning. Therefore, I do not want anyone to feel bad about my text. Things get better. But I agree with pre-Trump version of Mike Pence: Kids in daycare get a short end of the stick. Even the best and most professional daycare won't effectively replace a good mother. It is very hard to find good information about the true effect of daycare because there is a whole industry who powers daycare and a whole army of moms who want to be free from child care.

Excellent daycare employees swear by their methodology and benefits. They claim that kids still benefit. This often comes from contacts with parents whose knowledge and skills may not be up to the par of what can be provided by professionals. However, if you read this text and ponder your options, you are qualified enough: keep your child with you!

Social pressure

There is a social pressure to send kids to daycare. Many a mom observes proudly the acceleration in development. A kid, that was mute or totally dependent, starts naming things, communicating, or putting on one's T-shirt. This is great for mom's sense of guilt: "Mummy goes to work to earn money for the baby. You go girl and learn!". The same mom feels even better if it tells stay-at-home mom "send your kids to kindergarten, this will do miracles to their social skill development, don't keep them just cooped up at home!".

Problem of daycare

Daycare is an artificially constructed environment that violates many conditions needed for unconstrained development. The main violations occur in the areas of stress and sleep. Those violations affect the brain and all parents should be aware that "kindergarten acceleration" is a dangerous myth. Kids do accelerate into a groove of long-term stagnation. Good news today may be bad news in a decade. Daycare has been linked with an increase in aggressive behaviors and other behavioral problems. This short text explains why.

Problem 1: Sleep hygiene

Most kids need to be woken up for daycare. This is a major violation of brain hygiene. For kids who wake up naturally, there is no issue. Chronotherapy can help, but few parents know how to use it. The cheapest and obvious solution is a gentle waking prod from a parent. Being gentle is better than being abrupt, but it still has an awful impact on health and brain growth. The violation of waking kids up is most critical in the first 3 years of development. Sending kids sleepy to daycare begins a vicious spiral of negative health consequences. For an unlucky kid, those tend to pile up from month to month stunting growth and undermining long term outcomes.

Problem 2: Child stress

In most cases, daycare involves child stress. Chronic stress is a prime factor in stunting brain growth. For a tiny kid, the first day in daycare is almost inevitably stressful. If the kid goes to daycare all smiles, this is usually not an issue either. The largest stress component is maternal separation. Research shows that it has a powerful impact on little brains. There is a host of procedures that can make sure that kids accept maternal separation as a norm. In the end, most kids do. However, the chief mechanism used in that procedure is learned helplessness. In short, when kids are left with no choice, they stop combating the status quo. It happens to all humans in conditions of limited freedom.

Vicious circle: positive feedback loop

Sending kids out to daycare sleepy and stressed begins the vicious circle of health consequences: slower development, lower immunity, infections, antibiotics, missed days, more stress, more sleep deprivation, etc. That vicious circle may have societal dimensions.

Physiological acceleration

Weaning is a natural process than may take 2-5 years. Many moms choose not to breastfeed. They do it at child's peril. Others wean early. Daycare may be used as an excuse for early weaning. This is one more reason to delay or avoid daycare. A child may seem to accept weaning. In many cases this will happen via learned helplessness.

If the kid is still breastfed, it will use mom's breast as a form of anti-stress therapy. This is a natural biological need. If the kids needs breastfeeding, it should be granted. This is not an entitlement or pandering. This is a basic baby human right. While the kid is breastfed, the daycare should be out of the question. Even if the kid wakes up naturally, and loves daycare, it may still experience the stress of separation at feeding or nap time.

Weaning in hunter-gatherer societies may happen at the age of 4, often at next pregnancy. In those cultures, co-sleeping is a natural habit. Our culture forces early weaning and recommends just a meager 6 months of breastfeeding as the "necessary minimum". Co-sleeping is considered "dangerous" and is actively eradicated by governmental agencies. Moms claim that weaning is a result of "mutual consent", while this should always be a unilateral decision. Moms who tried "natural weaning" report that breastfeeding easily lasts beyond 3 years, and is reduced only minimally in the absence of breast milk. This is the type of bonding that should never be interfered with!

In addition to maternal separation, social issues and bullying, kids may experience kindergarten stress simply due to their otherness.

Imagine a 3 year old that refuses to remove its diaper. In some kindergartens it is a good reason to get the supervisor circle the kids around, make them point fingers, and collectively ridicule the "offender". Some kids don't care. Others will feel awful. For some kids, self-esteem is a key factor in happiness. Ridicule is a big factor when it comes to hating kindergarten.

A kid may have a habit of sucking a thumb before a nap. He may be self-aware enough to make it hard to nap at all. No thumb, no nap. In the presence of the primary caregiver, all those little habits do not matter. They are part of the routine. Home feels home. In a new setting, they can be a source of stress.

Parents can always take preventive action. Potty training would transfer kindergarten stress back to lesser home stress and make it possible to spread it over time. Thumb sucking can also be de-conditioned.

The problem is that all those training procedures detract from natural development. All kids will stop breastfeeding at some point. They learn to use the toilet. They stop sucking thumbs. It all comes naturally. They do it of their own accord. Those skills do not need to be accelerated.

Potty training is stressful to both kids and parents. It is a stress that coincides and interferes with a vital physiological processes: urination and defecation. This type of conditioning is asking for trouble. For some kids, it will all go smoothly and fast. For others, it can leave a long-term mark. There is a very simple solution: wait until the kid is ready. If it takes 3 years, so be it. If you worry that diapers are environmental polluters, you can always use reusable diapers or even more eco-friendly solutions.

Most of all, why waste time on potty training? The same time might be spent on reading a book, or whatever pursuit the kid enjoys.

So many potty-training books, so many stressed kids and parents, so many time outs dished out, and so much time invested in a thing that will always come naturally and free.

For all kids, all form of "physiological acceleration" should be avoided or approached with utmost caution.

Daycare: The verdict

Nearly all parents who send kids to daycare will look for excuses. Kindergarten acceleration is an illusion. The supposed benefits of infections are largely a myth. The benefits of socialization can be accomplished differently and better. If reasonable home care can be provided, daycare should be avoided.

No daycare can ever compete with good parenting!

Feminist perspective

During one of my child development conversations, a young mom politely but unhesitantly called me a "male chauvinist pig": "with all your views on breastfeeding and co-sleeping, where is the room for a woman? If you care so much about the planet, imagine that I may work on saving the world at the tiny cost of inconveniencing my child? I cannot afford going to work brain dead, just because of some negligible benefit to child's health from co-sleeping".

I totally agree that there is a trade-off. My sturdy attitude only comes from two factors:

  1. my work in the field of memory tells me those health effects of co-sleeping or breastfeeding are huge, not just negligible, and
  2. I see kids as carrying a compound interest.

This is why I might be a bit unhappy with "mommy blog propaganda" extolling the relief from breastfeeding or child care or shunting the baby to a separate room so that to revive the sex life.

What a parent can accomplish today, the kid may accomplish better, by an order of magnitude, in a generation. The starting value of the capital is far beyond negligible. The balance after three decades can turn out astronomic.

Summary: Daycare misery

  • daycare is an inferior substitute of good parenting
  • in western societies, there is a social pressure to send kids to daycare
  • to a large extent, social pressure originates in self-exculpatory mindset of young career-oriented parents
  • peer pressure in favor of daycare is based on a series of myths about the biology of child development
  • daycare acceleration is often a short-term phenomenon with poorer long-term outcomes
  • daycare acceleration works only for kids from families characterized by low resources (incl. time), neglect, pathology, and/or poor education
  • daycare boost to immunity is a myth
  • daycare socialization is often negative
  • daycare results in an increase in aggression and other behavioral problems
  • for many kids, daycare begins too early and necessitates forceful waking
  • for most kids, daycare violates natural creativity cycle
  • for most kids, esp. young kids, or early in the process, daycare involves significant stress
  • for small kids, maternal separation is bad for the brain
  • kids suffering from chronic daycare stress are likely to experience inferior long-term brain development
  • weaning should be natural and may take up to 4 years. In particular, it should not be accelerated for the sake of daycare
  • learned helplessness of daycare increases the likelihood of depression in adulthood
  • daycare often produces a positive feedback loop: slower development, lower immunity, infections, antibiotics, missed days, more stress, more sleep deprivation, etc.
  • potty-training is a waste of time, and can involve unnecessary stress
  • all forms of physiological and developmental acceleration make sense only if they are child-driven, i.e. natural