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Developmental Psychology Section

Parent–child interaction: Does parental language matter?

Although parental language and behaviour have been widely investigated, few studies have examined their unique and interactive contribution to the parent–child relationship. The current study explores how parental behaviour (sensitivity and non-intrusiveness) and the use of parental language (exploring and control languages) correlate with parent–child dyadic mutuality. Specifically, we investigated the following questions: (1) ‘Is parental language associated with parent–child dyadic mutuality above and beyond parental behaviour?’ (2) ‘Does parental language moderate the links between parental behaviour and the parent–child dyadic mutuality?’ (3) ‘Do these differences vary between mothers and fathers?’ The sample included 65 children (Mage = 1.97 years, SD = 0.86) and their parents. We observed parental behaviour, parent–child dyadic mutuality, and the type of parental language used during videotaped in-home observations. The results indicated that parental language and behaviours are distinct components of the parent–child interaction. Parents who used higher levels of exploring language showed higher levels of parent–child dyadic mutuality, even when accounting for parental behaviour. Use of controlling language, however, was not found to be related to the parent–child dyadic mutuality. Different moderation models were found for mothers and fathers. These results highlight the need to distinguish parental language and behaviour when assessing their contribution to the parent–child relationship.


Menashe, A. and Atzaba-Poria, N. (2016), Parent–child interaction: Does parental language matter?. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12147