Mothers who are disgruntled with their male partners spend more time talking to their infant sons than other parents do, psychologists have revealed.
This behaviour may be a form of compensation, with the women focusing more on their sons to make up for their dissatisfaction with their partners.
The effect only applied to sons — with researchers finding that the daughters of unhappy relationships did not similarly receive more attention from their mothers.
In contrast, no similar effect was seen among the fathers, who spend less time overall speaking with their children than the women in the study.
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Mothers who are disgruntled with their male partners spend more time talking to their infant sons than other parents do, psychologists have revealed (stock image)
Psychologist Elian Fink and colleagues from the University of Cambridge studied both the behaviour of 93 first-time, heterosexual parents and the extent to which they interacted verbally with their seven-month-old infant children.
The team interviewed the parents about the quality of their romantic relationships, asking them to rate how satisfied they were.
Conversations with the children were measured over a full day — one during which both parents were at home together — using a wearable ‘talk pedometer’.
Recordings from this device were fed into special software that automatically counted the frequency of both conversations with an individual and words spoken to the children.
After accounting for depression — which can affect both relationship quality and the level of parent-infant talk — the researchers found that mothers spoke to their infant sons more when they were unhappy in their relationship.
Mothers who rated the quality of their relationship as ‘low’, rather than ‘average’, used around 35 per cent more words when talking to their sons and started around 20 per cent more conversations with them.
‘It’s possible that the mum is trying to compensate for the poor relationship she has with her partner,’ said Dr Fink.
This, she added, might lead to a mother ‘putting more time and effort into her relationship with her other close male social partner, her son.’
‘What is particularly interesting is that mums only seem to compensate when they have infant sons, not daughters.
‘It could be that mothers view their daughters as mini versions of themselves rather than of their partners,’ Dr Fink added.
As the researchers did not examine the actual content of the conversations the mothers had with their children, they were unable to tell whether the women were talking positively to the infants or complaining.
This behaviour may be a form of compensation, with the women focusing more on their sons to make up with their dissatisfaction with their partners (stock image)
In contrast, the amount that the fathers spoke to their infants was unchanged by the quality of their relations with their wives.
The researchers did note, however, that the fathers initiated fewer conversations with their children and spoke to them far less overall than the mothers did, even though both parents were at home on the day the recordings were taken.
‘Even when dads spend more time around their infants, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are interacting with them more,’ Dr Fink said.
‘One possible reason may be that there’s still an imbalance in who responds to the basic care needs of their infant.’
‘So, for example, if it’s the mother who still shoulders the burden of changing the nappy, this at least offers an opportune time to engage in direct communication with her infant.’
Fathers initiated fewer conversations with their children and spoke to them less overall than the mothers did, even though both parents were at home on the day recordings were taken
Dr Fink hopes that the findings will help encourage parents to talk more to their infant children, regardless of the latter’s gender.
‘Parent-child interaction is important for a child’s development, with conversation playing a particular role for the child’s language development,’ she said.
‘Finding time to talk to children is very important. Using opportunities within the daily routine, such as mealtimes and bedtime, to have conversations with your child may help foster later child talk.’
The full findings of the study were published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
HOW IMPORTANT IS BABY BABBLE?
Scientists claim that talking to babies gives them advantages in life far beyond a larger vocabulary.
They say that chatting to babies under the age of one helps them make friends, as well as making them brighter because they are better able to discover the world around them.
There is some debate about how important it is and also if adults should use their normal voice.
Speaking more slowly, using a sing-song voice, and using strange words are commonplace when talking to tiny tots, but past research found that it may be detrimental to a child.
Conflicting research claims the high-pitched voice used when talking to a baby is essential.
‘Baby talk’ is believed by many to help with developing early speech and language skills.
These are associated with success in developing reading, writing, and interpersonal skills, both later in childhood and later in life.
Long before they can speak clearly, babies understand the general meaning of what you’re saying.
This bond is important in their development and happiness.
Other advice includes:
- Have back-and-forth conversations in baby talk
- Imitate baby’s vocalisations such as ‘ba-ba’ or ‘goo-goo’
- Reinforce communication by smiling and mirroring facial expressions.
- Imitate baby’s gestures as body language is important to their communication
- Smile often at the baby, especially when the child is engaged in baby talk
- Look at the baby as the tot makes noises