I just found out today that my work schedule will be changing next week so that I have to work more days and long hours. Is there a limit to the time my child can spend in daycare?

There may be legal limits. Child care licensing regulations may limit the number of hours that a child can spend in child care. To find out if your state’s licensing regulations has limits, contact your state licensing agency.

If you are receiving assistance with child care fees, the sponsoring agency may have limits on the number of hours it will pay for your child to be in child care. To find out if your state’s child care subsidy/fee assistance regulations limit the number of hours your child can be in child care, contact the agency that administers your state’s child care assistance program. However, the amount of time your child should spend in child care really depends on what your child can tolerate. Four days at 10 hours will feel different than three days at 12 hours, especially when you add in time for transportation. For some children, a long day with a group of children and adults is exhausting. For other children, being with a group can be stimulating.

Positive relationships are one key to your child’s adjusting to a long day. A younger child is likely to be more affected by the number of hours in care. Infants and toddlers need a relationship with one special caregiver during most of their hours in child care. If your child’s day is longer than his or her caregiver’s day, your child will have to adjust to several care-giving styles every day. This can cause stress for your child.

Your child’s behavior will tell you if the longer day is causing stress. Your child may do fine, or your child may react by withdrawing or crying or sleeping more. Your child may also react by biting or hitting or being aggressive. It is important for you to feel good about your child care provider and be able to communicate with her or him. Together, you can figure out what your child needs and how to make the long day less stressful for all of you.

Finally, remember that even though it has been a long day for you, when you and your child get home, your child may want your attention for the first half hour. Relax and enjoy your child.

Rosemary Kendall, Ph.D.
Senior Associate Director of Special Projects & Publications
Child Care Aware® of America
Rosemary Kendall has over 35 years of experience in the field of early care and education. She worked for eight years as a content specialist with the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center (NCCIC). She has additional experience as a family child care specialist with Early Head Start, a parent educator and parent involvement team member with the Fairfax County Public Schools, an early childhood educator, a researcher, and a nursery school director.