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The 'Cortisol Studies' - Stress Hormones in Day-Care Kids


Q. What are these studies that show that day-care stresses young children out? What does that suggest to parents who would like to use day care services?


It's true: studies have definitely shown that for most toddlers, the stress hormone cortisol remains at high levels when they are in structured, out-of-home settings such as organized day-care centers and preschools.


In contrast, cortisol levels for the same children drop when they are at home, and cortisol levels of children who do not go to preschool or day care remain low all the time.


The findings were collected by gathering children's saliva in samples morning, afternoon and evening, both in day-care settings and at home, and have been widely reported.


Why is this a problem? Because cortisol levels that are too high can interfere with a child's digestive system, slow his or her growth, reduce his or her natural immunities - making the child more prone to get sick - and perhaps even damage the child's memory skills and attention capacity.


It is clear: life in groups of children in out-of-home settings, rather than in the home, can be very stressful for young children, especially those who might be considered "shy."


The good news is that the cortisol levels don't stay as high among older preschool children, suggesting that as they grow, children learn to adjust to stress. But it can't be determined if there are lifelong or even long-term ramifications.


Child development experts say that parents should feel comfortable and good about their preschool or day-care setting, or don't take their child there. They also suggested in-home care or small-group home day-care settings for children who are shy or have existing health challenges that would be difficult to contain in a stressful setting.

Homework: For more about the studies, see


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 112 2008


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