Background. Existing research suggests that there is a relationship between greater exposure to center-based child care and child behavioral problems though the mechanism for the impact is unclear. However the measure used to document child care has usually been average hours, which may be particularly unreliable in the early months when fewer children are in center care. In addition individual trajectories for behavior difficulties have not been studied.
Objective. The purpose of the current study was to examine whether the extent of exposure to center-based child care before two years predicted the trajectory of children’s difficult behavior (i.e., tantrums and unmanageable behavior) from 30 to 51 months controlling for child and maternal characteristics.
Method. Data were drawn from UK-based Families, Children and Child Care (FCCC) study (n=1201). Individual growth models were fitted to test the relation between early center-based child care experiences and subsequent difficult behavior.
Results. Children with more exposure to center-based care before two had less difficult behavior at 30 months, but more increase over time. Initial levels were predicted by higher difficult temperament and lower verbal ability. Higher difficult temperament and lower family socio-economic status predicted its change over time.
Conclusion. Findings suggest that early exposure to center-based care before two years old is a risk factor for subsequent behavior problems especially when children have a longer period of exposure. A possible explanatory process is that child coping strategies to manage frustration are less well developed in a group context, especially when they lag behind in expressive language.