Mum’s the word: Maternal language has strong effect on children’s social skills

Aug 3, 2015

Photo credit: © Monkey Business / Fotolia

By the University of York

Psychologists at the University of York have revealed new evidence showing how specific language used by parents to talk to their babies can help their child to understand the thoughts of others when they get older.

Studying the effects of maternal mind-mindedness (the ability to ‘tune in’ to their young child’s thoughts and feelings), lead author Dr Elizabeth Kirk observed 40 mothers and their babies when they were 10, 12, 16, and 20 months old.

Keeping a record of parental language while a mother and her child played for 10 minutes, psychologists logged every time the mother made ‘mind related comments’ — inferences about their child’s thought processes through their behaviour (for example, if an infant had difficulty with opening a door on a toy car, they could be labelled as ‘frustrated’).

Revisiting 15 mother-child pairs when children reached 5 — 6 years old, the child’s Theory of Mind (ToM) or socio-cognitive ability was assessed. Using the ‘strange stories’ method, the level at which the child was able relate to others and understand another person’s thoughts was recorded.


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5 comments on “Mum’s the word: Maternal language has strong effect on children’s social skills

  • The baby is learning the name of its own various internal states. I guess this makes it more aware of internal states and more aware of the internal states of others. That would be such an easy thing for parents to do.



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    maria melo says:

    I have met some two young men reported as having irreversible damages, structural damage, due to a lack of stimuli in early age and a woman reported as having personality damages too, because of lack of afection of her mother.

    (I was kind of happy to see my dother making a “poetic” game of words with the psychologist when she was about 5, thinking I might have some positive influence on her.)



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  • I have met some two young men reported as having irreversible damages, structural damage, due to a lack of stimuli in early age and a woman reported as having personality damages too, because of lack of afection of her mother.

    I remember reading excerpts from introductory psychology textbooks in the mid-sixties about babies who were never picked up or hugged suffering irreversible, often fatal, spinal damage because of lack of stimulation. Affectionate verbal and physical stimulation that nurture a child’s ability to navigate the social, natural and educational environment include a range of effective parental behaviors. The article’s narrow, dubious recommendation seems obsessive and gratuitous.



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  • It seems as though all the results were observational, would it not have been more comprehensive to use an EEG to measure associative brain function when words are used vs. when emotions are felt? Ie, how long does it take for the emotion and the word to resemble one another in terms of neural activity? I have no medical background, so forgive any blatant ignorance here



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