Kristin Murphy, Utah State University
Past research shows that parents interact more positively with their children and use more supportive language during play than during teaching interactions (Kwon, Bingham, Lewsader, Jeon, & Elicker, 2013). Children with normal language development tend to have parents who use more language supporting speech, (Vigil, Hodges, & Klee, 2005) than parents of children with language delays. The specific research question addressed in this study is: Do maternal (maternal depression, education levels, parenting stress) or child factors (language development, social-emotional development) influence maternal language behaviors in teaching and play contexts?
This study was comprised of 68 mother-child dyads. On average, the children were 20.4 months old and 58% were female. Eleven of the mothers met the screening criteria for depression. The majority (68) of the mothers were Caucasian and were not employed (60.9%). Mothers were interviewed about basic demographics, their parenting stress and depression, and their children’s language and social-emotional development. They were then asked to interact with their child during a teaching task (five minutes), during semi-structured play (ten minutes), and during a cleanup task.
The study results suggest mothers who reported their children to be difficult, used more “wh” questions during play (r = .27, p = .03) and teaching (r = .31, p = .01), and more praise during teaching (r = .37, p = .00) than mothers who rated their children as less difficult. Mothers’ use of “wh” questions during play was positively associated with children’s vocabulary production (r = .26, p = .04). Asking “wh” questions is a language supportive behavior, often associated with greater vocabulary as indicated in our results, but might be expected to occur less when children are perceived as difficult or parents have high levels of stress. Implications for early intervention efforts supporting parenting and children’s language development will be discussed.