You probably already knew that the way you talk to your baby can have a profound effect on their language skills and emotional development. Now, a new British study has found that parents' language can affect children's ability to understand and sympathize with others' emotions as well.
Published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, the study involved 40 pairs of mothers and babies who were brought back to the lab when the babies were 10, 12, 16 and 20 months old. The researchers had the mothers play with their babies for ten minutes while the language they used was recorded. Finally, a follow-up visit was conducted when the children were five or six years old.
The researchers found that the children whose mothers focused on "mind-mindedness," making comments about their own or their babies' mental states, were better able to understand the thoughts of others at 5 or 6 years old. An example of mind-minded language is stating that your child seems frustrated or asking things like, "Isn't that funny? I think it's funny."
"These findings show how a mother's ability to tune-in to her baby's thoughts and feelings early on helps her child to learn to empathize with the mental lives of other people," lead author Elizabeth Kirk, M.D., of the University of York, wrote in a press release. "This has important consequences for the child's social development, equipping children to understand what other people might be thinking or feeling."
Therefore, if you want your child to grow up to be emotionally aware, be sure to consistently talk to them about thoughts and feelings, even at the age when they can't fully understand all the concepts yet.
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