In a recently released article in Pediatrics, Madigan et al. provides us with further insight into how the acquisition of language occurs and the significant role that parental behaviors play in this process (10.1542/peds.2018-3556). Language development is one of the most crucial milestones in childhood and has been shown to predict occupational and academic success as well as social competence and psychological health.1, 2, 3 The process through which language is acquired is heavily influenced by genetic factors as well as a variety of environmental factors including parental behaviors. Distinguishing the specific parental characteristics that enhance or harm language acquisition is thus of high importance given the potential long-term consequences associated with early deficits in language. 4, 5
In this large meta-analysis, Madigan et al demonstrate the effect of sensitive responsive parenting on language development. This form of parenting refers to specific behaviors in which parents are attuned and attentive to the emotional and physical cues of their child, thus creating a secure attachment with the child that better enables them to explore and learn from their environment. This study provides strong evidence that children who are surrounded by such behaviors are 2.8 times more likely to develop strong linguistic abilities compared to children without such influences. This effect was even more pronounced among children in families with low socioeconomic status.
As a general pediatrician, this finding is significant because while many health risk factors are not modifiable, positive parental behaviors can be taught. 6,7 Many of us already spend time with parents discussing the importance of reading, talking and singing to their children, but Madigan et al’s study suggests that it may also be of value to discuss specific parenting techniques that aim to increase a parent’s warmth and responsiveness. By doing so, perhaps we will better enable parents to nurture children who will be more likely to develop the critical skills needed to prepare them for future success.
- Barnett, Melissa A et al. “Bidirectional Associations Among Sensitive Parenting, Language Development, and Social Competence.” Infant and Child Development vol. 21,4 (2012): 374-393. doi:10.1002/icd.1750
- Petersen, Isaac T et al. “Language ability predicts the development of behavior problems in children.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology vol. 122,2 (2013): 542-57. doi:10.1037/a0031963
- Brownlie, E. B et al. "Early Language Impairment and Young Adult Delinquent and Aggressive Behavior." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology vol 32, 4 (2004): 453-467. doi: 10.1023/b:jacp.0000030297.91759.74J
- Stothard, Susan E et al. “Language-Impaired Preschoolers: A follow up into adolescence.” Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research vol 41, 2 (1998):407-418. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4102.407
- Bee, HL et al. “Prediction of IQ and language skill from perinatal status, child performance, family characteristics, and mother-infant interaction.”Child Development vol 53, 5 (1982): 1134-1156. doi: 10.2307/1129003
- Lowell, Darcy I.,et al "A Randomized Controlled Trial of Child FIRST: A Comprehensive Home‐Based Intervention Translating Research Into Early Childhood Practice." Society for Research in Child Development vol 82, 1 (2011):193-208 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01550
- Landry, Susan H et al. “A responsive parenting intervention: the optimal timing across early childhood for impacting maternal behaviors and child outcomes.” Developmental Psychology vol. 44,5 (2008): 1335-53. doi:10.1037/a0013030