Children 'thrive under the care of child-minders': The British Psychological Society Conference

Parents who worry that their children will be emotionally harmed by being left with a child minder can go to work in peace.

Research shows that children are not neglected by minders or bullied by their children, but that they benefit from the company of other children and having a social world of their own.

The problems of separation between the child and its natural, if absent, parents are far more likely to be felt by the mother or father than by the child, Dr Helen Barratt told the London meeting yesterday.

Dr Barratt, a psychology lecturer at Thames Valley University, Ealing, west London, said it was a popular belief that children who were cared for by a child minder were more passive and withdrawn.

It was also assumed, she said, that healthy social and emotional development in very young children depended on the presence of their mother.

While a small minority of children in her study did appear to have emotional difficulties, they were found equally among the minded children and the minders' own children, which suggested that their problems had a separate cause.

'These minded children may not have thrived at home either. In general the group of minded children were thriving and seemed to be benefiting a lot from having another social world. It did not seem to be doing them any harm at all,' she said.

'It seemed to me that the separation was much more traumatic for the parents. The truth about child minders is that they have a real concern for the children in their care.'

She also found that minded children of similar age tended to get on well with their friends and showed less rivalry than would be expected from siblings.

For her study she watched 24 pairs of children under five years old in the company of their child minder. Twelve pairs comprised the minder's child and a minded child, and another twelve pairs comprised two minded children.

All the children were then slightly 'stressed' by cutting down the child minder's attention and availability and their behaviour was recorded on video.

The main difference Dr Barratt found was that the younger children tended to be more passive than the older children. The myths about child minders might, therefore, stem from the fact that the minders' own children tended to be older than the minded children. It could be the effect of age. 'As children get older they tend to be more active anyway,' she said.

In another study with 160 identical and 213 non-identical pairs of twins under 18, Dr Jim Stevenson of the Institute of Child Health, London, said that social and helpful behaviour was more likely to be inherited than anti-social, aggressive behaviour, which was more likely to be influenced by environment.

If this was the case then encouraging parents and schools to show children the rewards of kindness and helpfulness to others provided a strong model for 'good behaviour'. Poor behaviour could then be changed for the better, he said.

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