To what extent do secondary caregivers have a unique role in children’s language development and how might this be explained?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Cora Sargeant
Submitted: December 2010

The role of mothers in children’s language development has been well researched but the contribution made by fathers has received less attention. Mothers spend more time talking with children and are more attuned to their developmental level than fathers. The dominant social interactionist perspective considers the communicative competence of others and the frequency of exposure to language to be important factors in language development. As such it would be reasonable to assume the contribution made by fathers to language development to be only an additive to that of mothers. This essay investigates the paradox that, though fathers have more difficulty communicating effectively with children than mothers, and do so less often, recent research suggests that they may have a unique role to play in language development. The essay concludes that the unique role of fathers is only possible because they are incompletely attuned to their child’s developmental level. The essay also concludes that this is due to differences in the roles of secondary and primary caregiver rather than due to gender differences between mother and father. Implications of these findings for single-parent families and early interventions for children with language difficulties are discussed.

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