Fathers influence child language development more than mothers

CHAPEL HILL - In families with two working parents, fathers had greater impact than mothers on their children's language development between ages 2 and 3, according to a study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute and UNC's School of Education.

Researchers videotaped pairs of parents and their 2-year-old children in their homes during playtime. The children whose fathers used more diverse vocabularies had greater language development when they were tested one year later. However, the mothers' vocabulary did not significantly affect a child's language skills.

"Most previous studies on early language development focused on mothers," said Nadya Panscofar, a graduate research assistant and an author of the study. "These findings underscore that for two-parent, dual earner families, fathers should be included in all efforts to improve language development and school readiness."

Panscofar and Dr. Lynne Vernon-Feagans, the William C. Friday distinguished professor of Child and Family Studies in the School of Education and a faculty fellow at FPG, conducted the study in Pennsylvania as part of the Penn State Health and Development Project when both were affiliated with that university.

The study appears in the online version of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. It will appear in the November print issue of that publication.

A secondary finding of this study was that high-quality child care during the first three years of life was associated with higher scores at age 3 on a test of expressive language development. However, child care accounted for less variance than family language. Researchers also found that, consistent with previous research, the parents' level of education had a significant impact on children's language abilities.

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Note: For more information, visit www.fpg.unc.edu

FPG Child Development Institute contact: Tracy Zimmerman, (919) 966-0867 or zimmerman@mail.fpg.unc.edu

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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