Dorothy Flint knew soon after her son William was born that she had a difficult child. He cried often and nursed nonstop. He slept so poorly that Ms. Flint took him on midnight drives in the car to calm him. He had separation anxiety so severe that she rarely left him. “He was really a tough baby,” says the Crofton, Md., mother.
Later she found a silver lining. Ms. Flint took pains to choose an excellent child-care center for William, now 4, and he quickly surpassed other kids, sharing his toys and learning classroom rules. He wins praise from his teacher for his social skills. As high-maintenance as William was, Ms. Flint says, he has also been high-reward.
Working parents struggling with difficult children–marked by excessive crying, fussiness, emotional volatility, fear of strangers and clinginess–often worry about how they will fare in child care. Research has shown that sensitive, vulnerable kids can be at higher risk of problems later if they’re mistreated or face other adversity early.
But new studies are discovering an upside: these difficult babies also have a significantly higher chance of surpassing other kids later if placed in the right kind of child care. The findings offer new guidance for parents in predicting how child care is likely to affect a child.