How Does Family Structure Impact Language Development?

by Dana Hinders Google

    Learning how to communicate clearly is an essential life skill, so it is important to understand what factors affect language development in children. Being aware of the ways in which family structure can influence a child's language development allows parents to better help their children develop the skills they will need to succeed in school and in life.

    Family Income

    According to a 2009 American Psychological Association article entitled "The Effects of Socioeconomic Status, Race, and Parenting on Language Development in Early Childhood," socioeconomic status is significantly correlated with language ability in children at 36 months. Children of low income parents are most likely to have language difficulties, while children of upper income parents are more likely to have above average verbal skills.

    Children in Day Care

    According to the National Institutes of Health, children who were enrolled in child care centers as infants and toddlers had above average language and social skills when entering kindergarten. However, it should be noted that the study also found parental involvement in a child's education was two to three times more important than the child's experience in a day care setting.

    Presence of Siblings in the Home

    It is common for parents to assume that having siblings to talk to provides a beneficial effect for a child's language development. However, a 1990 study from the University of Iowa found that birth order does not significantly influence a child's language development. First born or only children, middle children and youngest children were equally represented among the study group of children suffering from language impairments.

    Single Parent Homes

    The Human Early Learning Partnership found that preschoolers from single parent households had lower verbal reasoning skills than children from two parent homes. The site also reports that elementary school children from single parent homes are 27 percent more likely to be placed in special education classes at school. The exact reason for this is unknown, however. The children of single mothers are more likely to have other risk factors for language difficulties, such as living in poverty. It can be hard to separate the influence of all of these interconnected factors.

    Parental Involvement

    Living in a home with parents who value reading and writing has the greatest positive effect on a child's language development. According to Preparing for Life, it is best to practice dialogic reading with young children. This approach involves asking the child questions about the book to make him an active participant in the story instead of having him listen passively while an adult is reading. Parents who practice dialogic reading with their children encourage them to build their vocabulary and practice their critical thinking skills. Parents with higher incomes and greater education levels are more likely to naturally engage in this type of interaction with their children, but this technique is something that all parents can easily do.

    About the Author

    Dana Hinders is an Iowa-based writer. She earned her B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa in 2003.

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