Mothers’ talk is key to kids’ social skills, study says
* Story Highlights
* Study followed 57 families as children grew from 3 to 12 years
* The effect of social skills was strong until age 9, weaker from ages 10 to 12
* Researchers are now interested in what effect training would have
* Expert: Labeling child’s feelings, as well as others’, is important
By Elizabeth Landau
(CNN) — Mothers often get blamed for the way their children turn out, and a new study gives additional weight to that accusation.
Research from the United Kingdom shows that the way mothers talk to their children at a young age influences their social skills later in childhood.
The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that children whose mothers often talked to them about people’s feelings, beliefs, wants and intentions developed better social understanding than children whose mothers did not.
In the first part of the study, mothers were asked to talk to their 3-year-old children about a series of pictures depicting scenes such as a child coming out of school looking happy and people waiting in line. Children whose mothers talked about the mental state of characters in the picture tended to perform better on social understanding tasks, the researchers found.
The effect persisted when the researchers revisited the families — 57 of them remained in the study until the end — on an almost yearly basis. The authors controlled for socioeconomic status and IQ of the mothers and found that these factors were not as relevant.
“You can predict even from when the children are 3 or 4 what their social understanding will be like when they’re 8 or 9,” said Nicola Yuill, lead author and senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex in England.
This effect becomes weaker from ages 10 to 12, perhaps because as children get older, they spend less time at home, and their peers and teachers influence them more, she said.
The 12-year-olds, however, generally did as well as their mothers on…