According to a recent University of Missouri study, sad moms frequently take longer to answer to their children during back-and-forth dialogues. The findings will be used to conduct more research to see whether the shortened response time affects children’s language development, vocabulary, or academic outcomes in the long run.
Nicholas Smith, an assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions, and his colleagues listened to audio recordings of over 100 families participating in the Early Head Start programme, a federal child development programme for children whose families’ income is at or below the federal poverty line.
Some of the moms involved were struggling with depression, and Smith’s team documented how much time passed between responses for a mother and her child during back-and-forth dialogue. “We found that the time gap in between responses, in general, gets shorter between mother and child as the child ages, and we also found the mom’s timing tended to predict the child’s timing and vice versa,” Smith said.
“Mothers and children are in sync. Children who were slower to respond to their mom often had moms who were slower to respond to the child, and children who were faster to respond to their mom had moms who were faster to respond to the child. The significant new finding was that the moms who were more depressed took longer to respond to their child compared to moms who were less depressed.”
In the longitudinal study, using audio recordings, they compared the response time of back-and-forth dialogue between mothers and their children when the children were 14 months old and 36 months old. Going forward, Smith plans to further study the dialogue response timing for the same individuals that were recorded in this study when the children were in pre-kindergarten and also when they were in fifth grade to examine how these effects play out later on in the children’s development.
“The overall objective we are hoping to accomplish is to better understand how mother-child interaction works as well as the underlying mechanisms and potential factors at play,” Smith said. “Once we identify what factors drive successful development outcomes and what factors potentially impair development, we can better identify at-risk children and then tailor potential interventions toward those that can benefit from them the most.”