The Shadow of Daycare

Remember your first health class and that powerful image of a little monkey clinging to its wire-mesh mother for all he was worth? This picture really is worth a thousand words, because it symbolizes who we are as a species. You depend on your biological need for attachment to survive. We are born helpless and in need of empathic, compassionate, and dare I say, loving caretakers.

There is a huge trust that develops between the bonds of your child and his primary caretaker. In fact, everything your child learns about the outer world and those who live in it, as well as how he views himself and his outer world, comes directly from those early interactions with you. His sense of security, self-esteem, frustration, anxiety, fear, and anger are all connected to his early exposure to bonding.

When your child is separated from you, he is stressed, and the stress hormone cortisol is released into his brain. When that stress is consistent, and there’s no secondary, stable and loving substitute for you as compensation, then that elevated cortisol floods the brain, changing both brain architecture and impulse control forevermore. Furthermore, your child will automatically experience stress simply by being around other children for long periods. It’s not too different than your spending long hours away from home, socializing other people. These kinds of stresses cause elevating cortisol levels in the brain and manifest by impacting anxiety, memory, executive functioning and the cognitive ability to learn and process information.

Remember, not too long ago, we were foraging for food and living in small colonies of 25 or 30 people. Children from our evolutionary past didn’t play with other children, but rather were socialized through the experiences that they had with their primary family and a few others.

We are the only species born with an undeveloped brain, which continues to grow through adolescence, so you can imagine how destructive a day care fight club can be to your young child.

  1. A caretaker is supposed to keep your child safe, well-bonded, and supported, so that he can reach his full potential. But when that secondary caretaker places your child in jeopardy, all that cortisol floods his brain like battery fluid, creating stress-related behavioral problems. And, it is a huge betrayal of the trust between your child and his secondary caretaker, which can impact the way your child’s brain develops.
  2. If your child is exposed to a caretaker who gives him mixed messages and encourages aggression, your child will copy that aggression, just like the abused child may grow up to become an abuser. Remember, all that cortisol is changing brain architecture, learning potential, and impulse control. That’s how dangerous this situation can be for your child.
  1. Look for stress-related behavior. When your child has a secure, secondary attachment replacing you, he can compensate for his fear. On the other hand, if your child is cranky, fearful, sad, despairing, and aggressive, is unable to control his feelings, or is displaying changes in sleep or eating, he is telling you that something is wrong.
  1. Emotional trauma, especially consistent emotional trauma, can be so far-reaching that it can follow your child into his adulthood. When the developing brain is exposed to stressful and consistent traumatic experience, it can no longer grow in a healthy way. And when the essential attachment figure is not trustworthy, safe and secure, neither is your child.

So what can you do about it?

  1. Find a safe and secure child care center for your child with a large enough space to play, and small enough classrooms to learn, with five teachers per every 15 children.
  1. Make sure the day care teachers’ approach to care taking is in line with yours, including bonding, discipline and polite behavior.
  1. Spend time visiting your child’s day care environment and make sure you communicate periodically with his care takers/teachers.
  1. Observe your child’s day care teachers and watch how they manage both difficult behavior and stress.

In the final analysis, you are your child’s best teacher and he is best socialized by you. However, if your child is socialized by his peer-group, with fighting, aggression and rage as his lessons, you will be dealing with an aggressive, insecure, and anxious child, who may never reach his full potential, for the rest of your life.