Research into the area of early childhood care is gaining significance as more and younger children are spending increasing amount of time in daycare settings. The fact that educational success in Germany depends heavily on family background is now being attributed partly to the lack of high quality early child care, which is capable of leveling out social inequalities before children start school. While early day care is being rediscovered as beneficial for children's developmental potential, there is an ongoing debate about possible long-term risks for the emotional health and stability of young children in non-parental care.
My research will inform this discourse by investigating the impact of sensitive caregiving on young children's stress response in day care settings. I focus on the determinants of emotional development and how they are related to stress in non-parental care. I propose that the behavior of professional caregivers plays an important role in regulating children's response to stress in unfamiliar situations. To test this assumption empirically, I will implement a new combination of observational, behavioral and psychophysiological methodologies. Type and amount of early non-parental care, caregiver-child dyads during the adaptation period, as well as caregivers' ability to positively redirect critical group processes will be investigated. The acquired knowledge will be incorporated into an educational module for nursery teachers to be evaluated in the later project stages. The overall results carry the potential to induce changes in pedagogical practice in environments ranging from a high quality day care center at the University of Konstanz to low quality care institutions, such as Eastern European orphanages.