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.
Approximately 2 million individuals are homeless in the United States (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 1999). Of these about 40 percent are families (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1999). Language, learning, and cognitive delays are common in preschool children.
Data from mothers and children in homeless shelters is complicated by factors such as poverty, health issues, and race and ethnicity. Nonetheless, we find that both children and mothers in homeless shelters exhibit deficits or delays in at least one of the following: auditory comprehension, verbal expression, reading, and writing (O'Neil-Pirozzi, 2003).
In the Deaf culture, among parents and children who are both deaf and for whom American Sign Language is the primary means of communication, motherese is conveyed by sign and facial expression. Use of sign can present a potential problem because facial expression marks both affect and grammatical structures, such as questions. With only limited use of paralinguistic cues, such as higher pitch and exaggerated intonation and stress, a mother's nonvocal facial expression takes on added importance as a conveyer of her intentions and as a device to hold a child's interest. Prior to a child's second birthday mothers of children with deafness use facial expression primarily for affect. There is a shift to more grammatical uses after that point . (Reilly & Bellugi, 1996).
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