What is the Best and Worst Age for Daycare? Parent’s Helpful Guide

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Choosing when to begin using daycare isn’t a luxury every mom has. You may only have a few weeks of maternity leave, which makes daycare an immediate necessity.

If you’re a mom with more flexibility, you’ll have the ability to ask when is the best or worst time to start daycare for your little one?

What’s the best age to start daycare?

Pediatricians have mixed ideas on the best age to start daycare. Most agree the ideal earliest age for full-time daycare is 12 months. Don’t feel guilty if your child starts earlier. Financial circumstances vary, and your kid will still thrive even if they start daycare earlier than 12 months.

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The Best and Worst Ages for Daycare

4 kids and a daycare teacher learning

What’s the worst age to start daycare?

The worst age to start daycare for a kid is once the child gets too old, at around 3 or 4 years of age. The reason is that once a kid has gotten accustomed to staying home with mom or dad, the transition out of that can be harder as an older child.

I made up my mind well before I was pregnant that my children would not go to daycare. I wanted to hire a nanny who would give them the direct attention they deserved.

Once I was pregnant, I realized that my dreams didn’t match my finances. That’s when my husband and I started looking into daycare.

The research is somewhat mixed. Some say it’s a good idea to start children very young, so they’re accustomed to the daycare environment. Others say daycare is never a good idea at any age.

Instead of listening to these subjective opinions, let’s turn to the experts for their take on the best age to start daycare and the worst age to start daycare.

Related: Is Daycare Cheaper than a Nanny?

Should I Start Daycare at Six Months?

There are benefits to starting a child in daycare as young as six months. Studies have shown that children who are in daycare settings have better cognitive and language skills than those who have a singular caregiver.

Another benefit to starting daycare at an early age is behavioral.

Those who grow in an environment where they must share space with other children learn how to socialize in a way that children with stay-at-home parents or nannies don’t. This may lead to an easier transition into pre-school and kindergarten.

Find Quality Childcare
Find affordable individuals (or facilities if you’re looking a daycare) to watch your children so you can put your mind at ease when you’re at work or having a date night.

Is 12 Months Ideal for Starting Daycare?

A baby’s immune system takes a few months to fully develop. In addition, important milestones like standing, pointing, using simple words, and drinking from a cup are all achieved during that first year. Children in daycare settings may not be as encouraged to reach these goals as babies with a parent at home.

Studies have shown that children who start daycare at the 12-month mark are better behaved than those who don’t go at all. This could be due to stay-at-home parents being more lenient on their children but is likely due to the simple case of more social interaction.

Related: How Much Do Daycares Cost?

No Daycare Until Age Three

Developmental Psychologist Dona Matthews shares that children thrive in infancy when they’re able to be at home with family. The stability provided by a warm, loving home environment gives them better room to grow and develop emotional maturity.

Matthews states that children benefit from attending quality daycares or preschools starting at age three. Beginning a daycare before that young age may lead to anxiety, hyperactivity, and depression. Studies have shown that children placed in daycare too young have poorer relationships with their parents due to a lack of bonding time.

It Doesn’t Matter What Age You Start Daycare – As Long as It’s High Quality

The American Academy of Pediatrics focuses less on when a child should start daycare and more on making sure that the spot chosen for the child is a high-quality daycare. The AAP provides a quality checklist that parents can choose when looking for daycare situations.

One issue is that there have been studies that show infants in daycare are more likely to suffer from preventable diseases, which may make a mother want to rethink her plans. On the other hand, the AAP also states that daycare may be a safer option for infants than a nanny.

More Infections Now ➔ Leads to Fewer Infections Later

A young child who goes to daycare is indeed more likely to be sicker earlier on. But what’s also been seen is that kid will probably be less sick later on.

The reason for this is that a baby that attends daycare is exposed to many germs early on and therefore gets to build up their immune system.

The end result is that they’re less sick once they get older in their school age.

Don’t Let Other Parents Guilt You About Your Childcare Choices

mom feeling mommy guilt

Moms should not feel guilty about using daycare at an early age. Not every mom is able to stay home with her kids, and not every mom wants to. I talked with two close friends who tried the stay-at-home mom gig and realized it wasn’t for them.

Amy* and Kelly* both tried going the stay-at-home mom route. Amy, a physician, thought that she could put her career on hold until the children reached kindergarten. Kelly, an administrative assistant, felt that staying home would give her a chance to reassess her future career and maybe attend school online.

Both women realized they were not happy being stay-at-home moms. After less than a year, Amy found a good daycare that would accept infants. Kelly’s stay-at-home stint was even shorter.

Both said that they felt no guilt going this route. They were better moms knowing that they were happy during the day instead of miserable and resentful. They both felt that quality time was more important than quantity.

The psychology supports this idea. Not all moms should feel the need to avoid daycare until a certain age. If it’s better for your family to work outside of the home, work outside the home.

Other Options for Childcare

Full-time daycare isn’t a necessity for everyone. In my family, we tried a few different options. We were fortunate that my husband was able to stay home with our oldest after my maternity leave while I returned to work.

After three short months, I chose a work-from-home career while he went back to the office. Each child went to a nursery school part-time starting at age three while I continued to work from home.

That is what worked best for us emotionally and financially.

Nannies, babysitters, and family members are fine choices for childcare at any age. The experts might believe it’s ideal for a parent to stay home with an infant, but as we all know that’s not true in every situation.

In the end, only you can decide what’s right for your family.

Related: What are the different types of child care?

Make the Best Decision for Your Family

Babies can thrive in a quality daycare from infancy. They can succeed by staying home until kindergarten.

Everyone has an opinion, but your needs might not align with someone else’s. Do your research, weigh your options and trust yourself to find the right age for daycare for your child.

Find Quality Childcare
Find affordable individuals (or facilities if you’re looking a daycare) to watch your children so you can put your mind at ease when you’re at work or having a date night.

Have You Read Any of These Articles?

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about the best age to start daycare and the worst age to start daycare.

18 months is not too early for daycare. Your baby has had a chance to start building his/her immune system. Don’t feel guilty about starting daycare at 18 months if that’s what you want/need to do.

There are benefits to your child being in daycare, such as socialization and independence development that they wouldn’t have if they were with a stay-at-home mom or dad.

Many child experts believe that 12 months old is the best time to enroll your child in daycare. Don’t feel guilty if your child starts earlier than that.

*Names have been changed

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