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Nanny or not? New research shows whether nannies are good for kids

Nanny or not? New research shows whether nannies are good for kids Illustrative photo (Freepik)
Author: Maria Kholina

A team of scientists from the University of Cambridge has discovered that children are evolutionarily prepared to be cared for not only by parents but also by caregivers or educators. The researchers drew these conclusions based on their study of a modern hunter-gatherer tribe, according to IFLscience.

What does this discovery mean?

Anthropologist Nikhil Chaudhary and his colleagues studied the Mbendjele culture, a community of hunter-gatherers living in the northern tropical forests of the Republic of Congo. These people sustain themselves through hunting, fishing, and honey gathering, but in recent years, they have also engaged with markets.

"For more than 95 percent of our evolutionary history we lived as hunter-gatherers. Therefore, contemporary hunter-gatherer societies can offer clues as to whether there are certain childrearing systems to which infants, and their mothers, may be psychologically adapted," said the researcher.

The Mbendjele live in multi-family camps, where caregivers assist in raising infants and children.

Among 18 infants and toddlers (aged zero to four years) in this community, researchers observed that each child received an average of 9 hours of attentive care from 10 different people, sometimes even 20. When a child cried, a large number of individuals were ready to intervene, typically within just 25 seconds. According to their findings, biological mothers only needed to intervene in 50% of crying episodes. Even older children and adolescents helped take care of younger community members.

The authors emphasize that modern hunter-gatherers are not living fossils but are contemporary people living in a way of life that aligns with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Thus, their social structures and approaches to childcare may offer valuable insights into our broader evolutionary history.

How can the results of this study be applied?

In some countries, childcare responsibilities often fall solely on parents, who are expected to respond to a child's crying each time, leading to exhaustion and depression.

The team underscores that providing high-quality childcare support in civilized countries, beyond efficient supervision, should be a priority. Higher caregiver-to-child ratios, along with the stability of key caregivers in daycare centers and childcare facilities, can be crucial for the well-being of children and parents.

"Support for mothers also has numerous benefits for children such as reducing the risk of neglect and abuse, buffering against family adversity, and improving maternal wellbeing which in turn enhances maternal care," added Dr. Annie Swanepoel.