The Importance of Dads and Toddler Vocabulary Development

Attention Fathers: you play a big role in your toddler's vocabulary development. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found that the number of words a father uses when a child is 2 might influence the child's vocabulary a year later.

While mothers have long been considered to be the primary teachers of language to their toddlers, the study suggests that fathers had even greater impact than mothers on language development in the 2-year-olds.

The study found that "the number of different words the dad used when their child was 24 months of age predicted the child's language score at 36 months of age."

The study, in the November, 2006 edition of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, is limited --- it applied only to families with two working parents, and to children who were in day care. But it's significant, the authors said, because it is one of the first to show the importance of fathers talking to their children.

"We were a little surprised," said Vernon-Feagans. "We've always known that dads were economically important to kids, but this suggests that the way dads interact may make a difference, especially in dual-earner families."

They found that children whose fathers used more diverse vocabularies had greater language development and that mothers' vocabulary did not significantly affect a child's language skills.

"Dads are using different words, and numbers of different words," said Vernon-Feagans.

Sentence length did not appear to matter, she said, as much as the "type of words and the number of words."

One reason for fathers' influence in vocabulary could simply be differences in how mothers and fathers talk to their children, the authors said.

While mothers are more likely to use nurturing or comforting words, the researchers suggested, fathers talk not only in nurturing terms but about their work or other interests.

Key Take Away and Advice for Parents:
Dads need to and can greatly contribute to your child's vocabulary development
Dads should focus on using different words and different tones to compliment their spouses nurturing
Remember the more diverse your vocabulary the better
Talk about work and other interests to create more diversity