The best caregiver for an infant or toddler will undoubtedly be the mother. As Sigmund Freud described, mother’s importance is “unique, without parallel, established unalterably for a whole lifetime as the first and strongest love-object and as the prototype of all later love relations” (Cohler, 2009). Unfortunately, most of the time, mothers have to work as well as fathers. Therefore, dual-working parents will have to seek child-care alternatives, looking after the children while they are at work before the children start formal education. Usually, choices could be from grandparents, other relatives, hired nannies, and daycare facilities etc. And this selection is one of the most important decisions these parents will have to make. Types of child care are defined and classified in different ways. One of the common ways for educators and parents to categorize the choices of child care is between formal child care and informal child care.
However, there is not a uniform agreement for what is considered “formal” and “informal” child care before preschool, for children at the age 0-3. For example, Zhu (2009) believes only center-based care is considered as formal care, family child care and mobile schools are regarded as informal care. While Sylva, Stein, Leach, Barnes, and Malmberg (2007) argue informal care refer to non-maternal care with relatives including the father. Most existing studies support formal child care is care outside the child’s home, trained providers, extensive peer interaction, and an overt focus on development and learning, and informal child care includes parental care, relative care, and non-relative non-parental care such as a babysitter or nanny (Gottfried & Kim, 2015; Burger, 2010). There is vast literature that compares the differences between care from grandparents and other relatives, or a hired nanny who has no bond with the child. There is also broad literature that discusses the children’s different outcomes of center-based child care versus family child care.
To minimize confusion and find terms that fit the cultures this paper is going to cover, this paper will combine child care center and family child care together as a term of “School-based” child care, means that child care provided by a qualified caregivers in a school setting with instructors, peers, and a teaching curriculum for the children. Also, grandparents, other relatives, and nannies altogether will be combined as “Home-based” child care, which refers to children being taken care of at their own home (parents’ home) or being sent to other family members home, with caregivers who are designated to take care of one child. In China, the majority of Chinese dual-working parents prefer to choose home-based child care as an alternative. Nyland, Nyland, and Maharaj (2009) report that 95% of children in Beijing under three years are cared by parents, grandparents or nannies, suggesting that other than parental care, grandparents and nannies are most used in China. Another survey discovers grandparents can make up to 40% as children’s primary caregiver in China (Nyland et al., 2009). Another data is found that in the city of Guangzhou, the center of the largest metropolitan regions in China, only 1.8% of children under three years were in school-based programs (Li, 2003).
On the other hand, majority of European American parents in The United States are more likely to prefer school-based care over home-based care. Previous studies found the majority of American White parents choose to enroll their infants and toddlers into school-based care (Michel & Peng, 2012; Santhiveeran, 2010). NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (1997) reports in the United States, 44% of children under 36 months old receive care in school-based care from non-relatives, while 33% are at home-based care with relatives or nannies. While there can be numerous reasons, economical, social, political, and so on, help explain the Chinese parents and European American parents’ different preferences on child care selection, this paper aims to examine the cultural differences behind this phenomena. Learning cultures is not only giving people a way to explore this world, but also allows people to learn from others’ strength to offset one’s weakness. Age of 0-3 is a critical period in every child’s life. This paper is expected to help parents make better decisions through the children’s outcomes from a different type of child care being compared and contrasted.Cultural reasons for the Different PreferencesA lot of reasons can contribute to parents’ child care selections.
Economic reason, for example, not all parents are able to afford a school-based child care. Also, availabilities of a school-based child care in regions can vary widely. However, this paper is going to focus on the cultural reasons behind Chinese and European American parents’ child care selection.Different beliefs and values about child care.
Chinese family culture is heavily influenced by Filial Piety, which emphasizes the collective interest of the family than the individual. In Chinese culture, grandparents are usually obligated to be the primary caregiver after the parents (Zhu, 2009; Goh, 2009). Grandparents playing the role of caregiving are interpreted as beneficial to the wellbeing of the whole family for two reasons: keeping the family ties through intergenerational exchanges and enable mothers to pursue economic and career opportunities (Chen, Liu, & Mair, 2011).
Filial Piety also reflects reciprocity. That means Chinese grandparents taking care of grandchildren, can be used as bargaining strategy for elder care at an older age (Croll, 2006). Unlike Chinese culture, Americans are culturally individualistic. Most Americans are raised to depend on themselves and the nuclear family consisting of only the parents and children (Phillips & Adams, 2001). There are usually no cultural expectations for grandparents or other family members to take care of the children.
For this reason, home-based child care is not expected and sometimes not available. Because of an individualistic culture in the US formal child care is the most likely choice for American working parents and because two-income families are becoming the norm, toddler based formal child care is becoming a more popular choice (National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, 2008). Different expectations from child careTraditionally, the majority of Chinese parents pay more attention to the physical needs of children, such as health and nutrition, over the social and cognitive development (Nyland et al, 2009). It is reflected in the policies as formal child care institutions for age 0-3 (known as “Nurseries”) are administered by Department of Health instead of the Department of Education (Zhu, 2009). When making the choice for child care the education and social needs of children under three were usually outweighed by concern for needs for care (Nyland, Nyland, & Maharaj, 2009).
In addition, Chinese parents expect children to receive emotional benefits from the close bonds between grandparent and grandchild through home-based care arrangements. (Nyland et al., 2009).
Children in kinship care are most likely to interact with their parents and develop healthy relationships (Dubowitz, 1993). The relationships with relatives promote children’s emotional and behavioral development and is important to construct a good childhood (Abebe & Aase, 2007). The survey conducted by Nyland et al. (2009) shows when evaluating the needs in early child care, Chinese parents prioritize children learning good behavior habits (76%) over reading stories (53%) and reading and counting (45%). American parents prioritize school-based child care for its benefit in increasing school readiness of children. Existing studies support educational experiences in school-based early child care before entering kindergarten has a consistent important development effect on school readiness of children under three (American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1992; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2001; Pianta & Cox, 1999). As the United States is raising the educational standard for children’s academic performance in school, the expectations of a higher level of school readiness among parents are growing (National Education Goals Panel, 1997). Many of the early education and care programs have been designed specifically to increase the school readiness of children.
Policies promoting early education programs in the United States are also on the rise as 39 states have prekindergarten initiatives and state fundings for prekindergarten education programs grew 250% since 1990 (Education Week, 2002). Different circumstances to access child care The high coresidence rate between grandparents, parents, and grandchildren might have contributed to Chinese parents’ preference of home-based care (Goh, 2009). This coresidence across three generations is a common structure of Chinese family. In a recent survey, more than 50% Shanghai parents with children under 3 years old were cared by coresidential grandparents (Nyland et al., 2009).
Having a coreside grandparent can substantially increase the likelihood of children under three years old to receiving full-time care from grandparents (Vandell et al., 2003). In addition, availability of school-based care is relatively low in China: 27% in Urban and 14.4% in rural area (Datar, 2002). Home-based care to many Chinese still remains as a more convenient option than school-based child care (Chen et al.
, 2011).Home-based care through a coresident is largely not an option in the United States. The percentage of intergenerational coresidence has sharply decreased from 70 percent in 1850 to less than 15 percent in 2000 (Ruggles, 2007). Many grandparents are still working when their children have kids. U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 25% of U.S labor force is over 55 years old and 8% are over 65 years old. That number is expected to grow in next decade (Toossi & Torpey, 2017). The working grandparent not only can afford to live independently, they are also not available as an option to be child care candidate.
Children’s outcomes from home-based and school-based child careParents are eager to find out the outcomes from home-based child care and school-based child care, so that they can make better decision for their children. They would wish to be informed for outcomes of all domains, emotional, social, cognitive, physical, even their well-being outcomes. However, it is hard to find lifelong outcomes in many domains. For example, it will not be possible to find out children’s future GPA at high school and enrollment rate to college because the later quality of preschool, elementary school, and so forth, would make larger effort. Accordingly, when evaluating the quality of child care, the issue of attachment is the factor contemporary educators highly value. Existing researches have gained a profound understanding of the social and emotional needs of children and the importance of forming stable and secure family attachment bonds. Secure attachment means having a predictable, safe, and affectionate bond with an attachment figure, it can promote children’s development, while insecure attachment means having a less predictable bond and may have a negative effect on children’s development (Bowlby, 2007; Da, 2004).
Therefore, the quality of attachment can contribute to differences in children’s outcomes in many domains. Non-maternal care during the first three years of life have particularly far-reaching effects on development because of the importance of that period for attachment formation. When children under three years old spend more hours in child care, mothers are less sensitive in their interactions with their children and children are positively engaged with their mothers (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1997). Studies have found significant associations between substantial amounts of non-maternal care during infancy and poorer parent- child relationships, as well as elevated rates of insecure infant-parent attachments. Insecure attachment of children to their mothers is associated with future behavior problems and low willingness of children to explore their environments.
At a biochemical level, insecurely attached infants exhibit higher cortisol levels in response to stressful events, which may lead to permanent changes in the way that the brain deals with stress (Nachmias et al., 1996).Current research has found infants and toddlers in home-based care can develop secondary attachments to multiple people their primary attachment figure knows well and whom they both see regularly like grandparents, or other relatives (Bowlby, 2007; Da, 2004). Studies in the United States show that Chinese babies spent far less time with their mothers but more time with relatives than babies in families of other cultural backgrounds, but found them at no risk of poor bonding or insecure attachment (Trawick-Smith, 2006). In addition, Babies and toddlers are not usually affected by a few hours of separation from their primary attachment figure if they have a secure bond with a secondary attachment figure who cares for them (Bowlby, 2007)On the other hand, children in school-based care may have more difficulties developing secure attachments with caregivers because of two factors: higher child-caregiver ratio and lower stability of care. The ratio in school-based care is usually higher than home-based care. Home-based care typically is in form of one-to-one, China’s one child policy has even created a “4 grandparents-2 parents-1child” syndrome in which four grandparents are caring for one child. The ratio of school-based care in United States ranges from 4:1 to 15:1 (National Center on Child Care Quality Improvement, 2011), and the ratio in China is even higher at 19:1 in average (Zhai and Gao, 2008).
Research has consistently shown that low caregiver-child ratios tend to be associated with better overall quality of care and better child development (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1996, 2000). Having three or more secondary attachment figures usually increase children’s resilience and promote mental health (Bowlby, 2007). Stability of care also has salient impact on child development under age 3. Children who have experienced more changes in care arrangements are at heightened risk of insecure attachment and are more likely to be associated with a higher number of behavior problems (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1997). Compare to home-based care in child’s home with grandparents, children at school-based care are more likely to experience changes in classroom setting, caregiver personal and peers.The attachment with caregivers also correlates with infants and toddlers brain development.
Neuroscientists observed that important structures in infants’ brains are shaped by their emotional experiences, primarily their social and emotional relationships with attachment figures (Bowlby, 2007). The rate of brain development is faster than any other stage of life (Lindsey, 1999). Babies learn these emotional skills by experiencing sensitive and responsive care repeatedly, and the quality of relationships and the feelings they generate day after day can have a significant influence on the structure of the developing brain and will play an important part in forming their personality throughout childhood (Schore, 1994).Current research has reported the long-lasting effect early infant and toddler care on children’s social development. A familiar, trusting environment is vital to ensure children receive the social benefits. The stability and low child-caregiver ratio at home-based care can provide an enduring relationship between children and caregiver, primarily grandparents(Campbell et al, 2001).
Infants and toddlers tend to seek the access to a well-known and trusted figure all the time, and when that access is denied, they may try to resist by fighting, crying or screaming (Bowlby, 2007) Researchers have suggested that if a child is taken out of the nurturing home environment too early that a child might suffer from insecure attachment and might develop non-prosocial behaviors (McCartney ?1988; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2007). Studies on social development benefits of school-based care have reported mixed results. A joint study by NICHD, NIH, and DHHS (2006) reports positive caregiving such positive attitude, positive physical contact, feedback to vocalization, and encouragement have profound influence on children’s social development.
Children received high quality in positive caregiving show higher level of sensitivity, social interaction and less aggressive or disobedient. The report also shows more hours in school-based care, the mother display less level of sensitivity and mother-child interaction. It concurs with Belsky’s (2006) study which find the time in care correlates with problematic social development while cognitive outcome seem to be positive.In addition to child-caregiver relationship, competent peer interactions and the adult encouragement of competent peer interactions also affect children’s social development. Current studies suggest the effects begin as soon as competent peer interactions appear before 2 (Dunn and Cutting, 1999). Toddler peer skills have demonstrated that greater experience in adult-supervised play groups is associated with more frequent and more complex peer interaction (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2001).
Children with early experience of school settings and develop competent peer skill at pre kindergarten age are more likely to be accepted by peers at later age in kindergartens, preschools and grade schools (Hay, 2005). Current studies mostly agree the positive effect of school-based care with quality teaching activities. Responsive and cognitively stimulating care fosters the language and cognitive skills that facilitate learning before age three (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000; ). Follow-up studies conducted on Abecedarian Project, where full-day year round educational programs trials were employed on children ranging from 4 month to 3 years old, found significant short-term cognitive test(IQ) score gains start at age 4, and long-term higher academic development through age 21 (Barnett, 2008, Campbell et al, 2001). Researches on cognitive development of toddlers entering kindergarten have continually shown that when school-based care have high-quality programs that are cognitive stimulating, children in school-based care have more cognitive advancement and academic achievement than children from home-based care (Burchinal & Cryer, 2003; Burchinal, Kainz, & Cai, 2011; Gormley, Gayer, Phillips, & Dawson, 2005; Howes et al., 2008; Mashburn et al., 2008; Peisner-Feinberg et al.
, 2001; Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009). These short and long-term cognitive advancement and academic achievement include higher reading, writing, and math test scores were observed in these studies with race, family income, social status and parents education are controlled.Studies have reported in home-based care, the outcomes of cognitive development correlates with the education level of caregivers. A family environments that is educationally rich include reading with the child, narrating stories with the child, shared singing and family outings is most important quality on cognitive development (Fleer and Raban, 2005).
Surveys report the main reasons families in China feel dissatisfied with grandparents caring children are lack of awareness of the importance of early childhood experiences, less emphasis of cognitive development and the use of traditional wisdom over child care knowledge (Nyland et al., 2009). However, the data on education levels of home-based caregivers in China has received very limited research attention. Available studies on Chinese immigrants in Australia and California, who are comparably higher in income and education level than Chinese native, report they view grandparents caring children as a process cultural cultivation and education, where grandparents would utilize shared activities like reading, writing and painting to pass on cultural heritage (Da, 2004; Santhiveeran, 2010). Health outcomes are not controversial between home-based and school-based child care. Instead, more are comparing children raised by caregivers with more knowledge of health and nutrition, or the children in families with far different life conditions (i.e.
in families with deep poverty, nutrition needs cannot be met). Studies do find that children in school-based child care experience increasing illnesses and infections in the early years but develop a stronger immune system by the sixth grade than children who are kept in home-based settings (Côté, 2010). However, low-quality child care has been linked to increased obesity and the effects of low-quality child care seem to have a negative impact even through adolescence (Griffin, 2010).DiscussionChinese parents are more attracted to home-based child care because they were raised with traditions and expectations that their families will help with child care. This is different from European & American parents’ who choose school-based child care who do not share the traditions or have the expectations that Chinese parents have. Both types of care can be evaluated using similar variables to determine development outcomes. Even though, school-based care creates the potential for higher cognitive development if it’s taught by well-trained caregivers with quality educational curriculums and activities, it’s less important than the caring attachment from a kinship bond and the one-to-one attention given in home-based care. The close attachment to another person gives a child positive self-esteem, which is believed to influence every part of a child’s development, throughout their life.
Therefore, home-based child care is recommended for infants and toddlers under three years old. However, the positive aspects of school-based child care should be considered as an addendum to home-based care. Working with qualified educators who have advanced knowledge in children’s developments, and know what is more appropriate to provide children at each developmental stages. Similar-aged peers’ company is helpful for children’s well-being, and help children learn prosocial behavior at younger age.
If the grandparents or other relatives as caregivers can be trained to give the children more appropriate care that is better for their development, with their kinship that is related to children’s secure attachment, it might arrive a higher level of child care quality. Future studies are also required to evaluate how childcare knowledge affect the practices of home-based caregivers and investigate its impact from large-scale surveys.