Friday, August 29, 2008

Day Care Doesn't Cause or Cure Testosterone

I have three boys, ages 6, 6 and 1. And they are all boy, all testosterone, all the time. I am vastly outnumbered at home but over the last 6 or so years I've come to some level at peace with this.

For the longest time we didn't allow any kind of "Warfare game" or weapons toys, especially after my brother-in-law deployed to Iraq the first time. It was just too unsettling. But no matter how hard we tried, every single thing turned into a shooter. One of the twins was just barely three years old when one day at breakfast he bit his toast into the shape of a Beretta and began pow-pow-powing his brother. A toast gun, who can stop that?

I assumed that he was getting all of this aggressive behavior from his full-day preschool, a traditional center-based setting. One morning at drop-off I talked to his teachers, the naive first-time parent that I was. I implored them to tone down the war rhetoric on the playground, to encourage peaceful play, to lay low on good conquering evil by way of machine guns. They, the seasoned veterans that they were, assured me that not only do they discourage this play but yes, it was totally natural, all boys do this. You cannot stop it, you can only contain it.

I was truly bewildered. We had provided all sorts of gender-neutral toys (blocks, art tools, etc) and traditional girls toys (dolls, the plastic kitchen, etc) but they were still solely focused on anything that could shoot, hit or whack another human being. Where did we go wrong? Surely I was causing long-term damage by working outside the home and placing my boys in daycare, right? I was glad to see that the first long-term, federally-funded study of the long-term affects of daycare proves me wrong.

The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) studied more than 1,300 children at 10 sites since the early 1990s and found that there were few significant differences between children cared for exclusively by their mothers and those in any form of daycare. Overwhelmingly, most important predictor of children's attachment, as well as their cognitive and social development, researchers found, was the sensitivity of their mothers and the characteristics of their families, such as parental income and educational levels. Says Barbara Willer, deputy executive director of the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which accredits day-care centers and preschools: "the concerns that you're doing a horrible thing that could harm your children are lessened."

That makes me feel a little bit better, I suppose. Just last week as I was late yet again to yoga, running through the gym parking lot with the twins in tow, baby in stroller, yoga mat rolled up on top, Josh says, "Mom, I really like your stroller bazooka."

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