What’s the Best Age to Start in a Day Care Center?

Many factors should be considered when determining the best age for a child to start in a day care center; the individual child’s needs, parents’ lifestyle, and research findings should all be accounted for. So what are the advantages of day care, as well as the negative impacts? Let’s unpack it here..


If you are thinking about enrolling your child in a day care center, there are many things to consider including the age of your child, the location of the centre, your own work commitments and lifestyle, as well as the importance of building social skills and whether or not you can provide better care at home. So, should your child stay at home or start day care? Let’s have a look at developmental needs at particular ages and some of the advantages of day care.

day care center
Day care centers are usually well resourced and so your child will have exposure to a wide variety of learning experiences and activities

 What age is best to start day care?

Each child is different, with different developmental needs, family settings and temperaments, as well as different personalities, so therefore the recommended best age to start day care will not suit all children. It is important to consider aspects that can impact a child’s readiness such as their:

  • Actual age (many day care centers will not accept babies under the age of 6 weeks old)
  •  Social and interactive capabilities
  • Ability to adapt to unfamiliar and noisy environments
  • Specific health needs
  • Willingness to participate in new activities
  • Ability to be separated from parents

Some research suggests that 12 months is an optimal age to start in a day care center but of course, this will not be the case for all children or for all families.

It’s important to remember that early childhood settings and educators are trained to meet the developmental needs of all children in their care and so even children as young as a few months old can learn to adapt to an unfamiliar setting, just as a 4 year old can also be welcomed into a new day care center environment and they can learn to adapt and fit in.

The best age for a child to start day care is when they are developmentally ready to conquer the challenges day care encompasses. If a child is quite emotionally sensitive or prefers one on one care and smaller environments, perhaps it may be a good idea to look at the type of care you access for your child – such as family day care settings or even a private nanny.

“Day care poses no risk for children, provided that it is high quality…. Poor quality day care is risky for children everywhere.. .. The cost of poor quality day care is measured in children’s lives. High quality day care costs only money”

Sandra Scarr

 Is 6 months too young to start at a day care center?

Babies below the age of around 8 months are less likely to experience negative emotional impacts such as separation anxiety when passed to unfamiliar caregivers.

 Although, quality one-on-one time with new parents and their 0 to 18month old babies is important for the baby to distinguish their primary caretaker. This allows babies to develop attachment bonds with them which formulates the fundamentals for a strong relationship to blossom. Subsequently, babies 6 months of age might not have developed strong attachment bonds with their parents yet, so spending long hours in a day care center with different caregivers and reduced hours with their parental figures may cause impaired parental-attachment bonds.

day care center
Babies under 6 months need quite a bit of individual attention – that’s why the staff:child ratios are higher for this agegroup

 However, if babies spend a balanced amount of time at daycare as they do with their parental figures, damage to parental-attachment bonds is much less likely to occur.

 Do babies feel abandoned at daycare?

It is normal to feel worried that your baby feels abandoned at daycare. To ease your baby’s separation anxiety, try to:

  • Allow additional time to get ready for daycare – being organized will help relieve anxious feelings and allow your child to feel prepared for day care
  • Create a pre-daycare routine – Practicing a drop-off routine builds a comfortable environment so they can anticipate saying goodbye, making the separation easier
  • Avoid long days – if at all possible, keep your baby’s day at day care to less than 8 hours. Of course, this is not possible for all working families but babies can get very tired with long days of 10-11 hours at day care and this can have a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Educators can make efforts to provide a nurturing environment for infants and ensure they are responsive to their needs.

Is it better for a child to stay home or go to a daycare center?

There are advantages and disadvantages of both.

Day care provides various activities that are beneficial for children’s cognitive development, independence, emotional development, language and social skills. Although, day care has its downsides such as increasing children’s chances of getting sick, less individual attention, and negative emotions within the child due to hours spent away from home.

Children who stay at home are benefited with a strengthened parental-attachment, feelings of comfort and security, less exposure to germs and viruses and confidence from their familiar home environment. Although, their social capabilities might be reduced due to less interactions with other children. This could contribute to a more challenging transition to schooling and bring emotions of separation anxiety, or social withdrawal within the child.

 If children receive a balance of participating in activities that help their cognitive and social abilities, quality time with their parental figures, and opportunities to act independently and cooperatively, they can obtain the benefits that daycare and staying at home would normally provide. If parents are attempting to work from home with kids, however, this can provide additional challenges and stresses so it’s important to consider what is best for the whole family.

“The job of an educator is to teach children to see the vitality in themselves”

 Joseph Campbell
day care center
Children need to develop their social skills, independence and emotional maturity before attending school, but they don’t necessarily have to attend day care to develop these skills if you’re part of a playgroup or ensure your child has plenty of social opportunities

 What are the advantages of attending a day care center?

Placing a child in a day care center can be beneficial for both children and their parents. Advantages of day care may include:

  • Routine – provides children with a daily routine to follow which can improve time management and organizational skills
  • Improves social skills – learning and interacting with peers is beneficial for a child’s social abilities including communication and problem-solving. Interactions with other adults (day care educators), helps the child feel nurtured and develops respect and trust for other adults.
  • Development of the whole child – day care centers are usually well resourced and provide a wide range of learning experiences and activities for children to help them build skills in all developmental areas
  • Emotional development – learning to cope with separation from parents, learning to cope ith changes in routines and the unexpected
  • Develop language skills – talking to various children, exposure to various story books, songs and music and sometimes other children speaking in their home language
  • Builds physical skills – children are encouraged to engage in a wide range of fine motor skills as well as educators are expected to develop their key fundamental movement skills
  • Builds immunity – regular exposure to germs and viruses helps children to develop a natural immunity and helps build long term wellness
  • School readiness – school readiness encompasses everything above, as well as children may be involved in structured school readiness programs to help to prepare them for their primary school journey.

Benefits parents can gain from placing their child in day care are:

  • Relieves parental responsibilities – day care reduces the amount of caretaking the parents have to do that day, therefore reducing stress and improving family relationships
  • Frees up time – allows parents time to engage in other activities such as work, recreational activities, or housework
  • Increases social interactions – during pick-up and drop-off times, parents can interact with other parents or educators, which can provide emotional and social benefits

What are the negative effects of day care?

The possible negative effects of day care are:

  • Day care costs – even with the Child Care Subsidy (in Australia) and other subsidy programs around the world, many parents find the rising costs of day care to cause financial stress
  • Exposure to viruses – although this can improve immunity in the long term, children may often get sick and bring home germs and viruses to the rest of the family
  • Heightened cortisol levels – according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development children who attend day care often endure more stress, due to increased cortisol levels, than those who don’t
  • Reduced parent/child bonds – children who attend day care might bond less with their parental figures compared to those who stay home with them
  • Potential social conflict – some children may experience peer conflict or bullying during social interactions. Although most centers will have policies on managing behaviour and bullying, it still occurs frequently in many settings.  
day care center
Attending day care helps to boost long term immunity due to increased exposure to germs and viruses

Does daycare really build immunity?

After catching a virus, your body produces antibodies that defend against that particular foreign substance. These antibodies often stay in our bodies, so the next time the same virus is contracted, your body can fight it off through acquired immunity.

 Children who attend daycare are exposed to more surfaces where germs are likely to be stationed on. The toys they often put in their mouth, or the unwashed fingers they rub their eyes with increases their chance of contracting a virus and builds their immunity earlier on, which a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development supports. Children at home are not exposed to as many germs, so they are less likely to contract a virus.

 So to summarise, children may get sick more often while attending day care than they would if they were at home, but this will most likely build their long-term immunity meaning when they attend school, they will have an improved immune system.

 Is there a worst age to start in a day care center?

There are various factors to consider that might make one age worse than another for your child to begin day care.

First of all, there is a reason most day care centers won’t enrol children younger than 6 weeks old – children this young need to receive their necessary vaccinations and they also need those crucial first few weeks to form attachments with their parents.

Research conducted from the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) indicates children younger than 20 months experience higher cortisol levels at daycare, compared to children over this age. Although, the cortisol levels could have increased due to stress, or the heightened activity levels the child endeavored at day care.

 Children often form the most attachment to their family members between ages 0 and 3. Thus, children at day care during these ages are more likely to experience disrupted attachment. This may hinder the child’s ability to build and sustain future relationships due to developing characteristics such as:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Increased tendency to lie or act out

A safe and predictable environment such as the routines at home, can help prevent a child from experiencing disrupted attachment.

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There is also research to suggest that starting day care at ages of 4 and 5 is too late; that this may hinder the child’s development of important social skills and independence, as well as emotional maturity, suggesting that somewhere between 2 – 3 may be the optimal age to start day care.

day care center
There are many benefits to staying home with the kids including saving money on daycare costs and forming stronger bonds with your kids


Day care can provide great benefits such as relief of duties for the parents, and improved social skills for the child, if it suits your child and your lifestyle. Unfortunately, day care can also contribute to negative impacts on children such as disrupted attachment or implementing financial stress on the parents. The best age to start day care is when your child is emotionally ready, and adequate quality time is spent between the child and their parental figures.

It also has to be a whole family approach. It’s a good opportunity to look at your family values – some families will not have too much choice and will need to send their child to day care to ensure stable income. What is right for your family will be individual to your personal circumstances.


G’day! I’m Ken, and this blog documents my journey to becoming an awesome Dad! I would love for you to join along on my journey as I discover and learn how to become the best Dad I can possibly be, and manage this goal with my challenging work commitments!

Kenny has 53 posts and counting. See all posts by Kenny

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