Cultural and Social Differences
In middle-class American English-speaking families, parental behaviors differ based on the number and gender of the children and perceived differences in the children's abilities, and in two- or single-parent households. For example, the conversations of mothers with their twins are five times longer and elicit more turns from all speakers than conversations between mothers and a single child (Barton & Strosberg, 1997). Similar findings are reported for conversations between a mother, her infant, and an older sibling.
Parent-initiated communication with young North American girls and boys also differs in both play and nonplay situations. Adults tend to emphasize useful domestic activities with young girls, while they emphasize more free-ranging exploratory manipulation with young boys (Wells, 1986). It is unclear whether these preferences represent desires of the parent or the child.
Mothers of premature children may continue to use linguistic strategies more appropriate for younger children even when their children are age 4 (Donahue & Pearl, 1995). In contrast, mothers of late-talking toddlers seem to use the same conversational cues as mothers of toddlers developing typically, although both highly controlling mothers and their late-talking children appear to have less conversational synchrony as measured by semantic relatedness and amount of responding (Rescorla & Fechnay, 1996).
When studies control for the effects of socioeconomic level, preschoolers from single-parent homes appear to have better receptive and expressive language and to have fewer communication problems, especially when compared to children from households with married, working parents (Haaf, 1996). This difference may reflect the more intensive, one-on-one communication between the single parent and the children in these homes. In the absence of another adult, a single parent may spend more time talking to a child.
Socioeconomic and cultural factors result in many different child-caregiver interactive patterns. Among lower class families, the lack of resources may restrict opportunities for children, and parental work schedules may limit parent-child interactions.
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