How much fathers talk to young children has a direct positive effect on their kindergarten performance, according to a study by researchers in the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology in January, concluded that more-talkative dads are a benefit to their kids. That likely does not come as a surprise to anyone who has a kid.
Previous research has shown that the size of a mother’'s vocabulary and frequency of communication affect her child’s vocabulary and preliteracy skills. So it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to think that having a second caregiver talking to a child as well would have an even larger effect. Still, this is one of the first studies that looked specifically at how fathers’ verbal interactions with their children affected academic performance.
The study looked at mostly poor, rural families and was able to isolate the effect of fathers’ spoken language to show that it made a difference above and beyond language heard from mothers.
No gender-specific traits are evaluated in the study, so nothing can be concluded from the evidence that the “male” part of a traditional father or the “female” part of a traditional mother is important. What is measured is simply the frequency and complexity of the language young children hear in their homes.
Families with a nontraditional primary caregiver or a single parent were not included in the sample in order to isolate the variation of fathers’ language when fathers are present.
The takeaway for parents seems to be that the more language a young child hears from caretakers, the more ready the child will be for kindergarten. And dads or other non-mom primary caregivers, don’t be shy. What you have to say to your child matters, regardless of how much your partner chatters with your child.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.