Kids hang on to dad’s every word

Kids hang on to dad's every word

  • 20 October 2006

Fathers: watch what you say. It seems dads may have more of an influence on their children's language development than they might think.

Lynne Vernon-Feagans at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her colleagues sat in on playtime with 92 families with dual incomes, observing how much each parent spoke to their child, the words and sentence structures they used, and the types of questions they asked.

Children whose father's vocabulary was more varied when they were 2 years old had more advanced language skills at age 3. Surprisingly, the dads spoke less and asked fewer questions than the mothers, suggesting it was not how much they spoke but what they said and how they said it that resonated with their children.

The mother's vocabulary did not seem to have a significant impact on language development. However, because most of the mothers in the study used a large number of words when talking to their children, there could also be a threshold at which a large vocabulary ceases to be an advantage to the child, says Vernon-Feagans. "Perhaps when parents' vocabulary falls below such a threshold, as is more likely to occur with fathers in this study, children's later expressive language development may be negatively impacted," she says (Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2006.08.003).

From issue 2574 of New Scientist magazine, 20 October 2006, page 17

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