The conversational style of mothers interacting with their two- and five-year-old children


We investigated interactions between mothers and their children and specifically measured differences in the mothers’ verbal and nonverbal communication as a function of their children's age. Forty two-year-old children and forty five-year-old children and their mothers were video-recorded in two conversational settings. Measures were obtained for the mothers' speech complexity (mlu, use of verbs, complex sentences, and direct objects), their emotional prosody (pitch, pitch variability), and their pointing gestures. Mothers of 5-year-olds used more complex speech than mothers of 2-year-olds, whereas mothers of 2-year-olds showed more emotional prosody, and pointed more often than mothers of five-year-olds. This is interpreted as an adaptation to their children's conversational abilities. As younger children do not understand very complex utterances, but might rely on more nonverbal communication (such as pointing gestures and emotional prosody) than older children, their mothers might use a less verbally complex, but rather emotionally rich and non-verbally sophisticated interaction style.

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