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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2000 Nov;25(8):819-36.

Quality of care and temperament determine changes in cortisol concentrations over the day for young children in childcare.

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  • 1Behavioral Neurobiology Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Schorenstrasse 16, 8603, Schwerzenbach, Switzerland.


The current study investigated whether patterns of cortisol production in preschool-aged children in group care were influenced by characteristics such as group size, adult:child ratio, separation from family/parents, and quality of attention and stimulation from the childcare provider. Data were obtained from preschoolers attending home-based childcare. Cortisol levels were sampled at home and at childcare. Parents and teachers assessed the child's temperament (CBQ, TBQ). At childcare, the children were observed using the Observational Ratings of the Caregiving Environment (ORCE). Childcare characteristics were independent of family or child characteristics. In home-based childcare, children's cortisol patterns over the day correlated significantly with the amount of attention and stimulation provided by the childcare provider. Using a median split on the quality index measure of focused attention/stimulation, children in settings that were above the median exhibited no change in cortisol from home to childcare, while those in settings below the median exhibited a reversal of the typical pattern of cortisol production from morning to afternoon. At home these children exhibited the expected decrease in cortisol from morning to afternoon. Patterns of cortisol production at childcare were also correlated with child temperament with larger increases from morning to afternoon for more emotionally negative children and those with less self-control. Finally, cortisol production in home-based childcare was compared to data from children in center-based childcare and children not enrolled in full-day childcare.

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