Mothers' and Fathers' Mental State Talk: Ethnicity, Partner Talk, and Sensitivity
Patricia Garrett-Peters, and her colleagues, examined parents’ talk about internal psychological experiences with their young children among 582 African American and European American families living in low-wealth rural areas. These researchers found that mothers and fathers who were more sensitive and responsive to their children referenced internal psychological experiences more often during interactions with their children. Among African American families only, mothers’ talk about internal psychological experiences was positively influenced by fathers’ talk. Their findings support minority stress theory which suggests that historical experiences, racial discrimination, and stress may influence coherence and interdependence in parenting practices among minority families.
Q: Can you give us a bit of background to this study?
A: The data for this study were drawn from a large longitudinal birth-cohort study of 1,292 families and their children living in low-wealth rural counties in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. This study is the latest in a series of studies in which my colleagues and I examined characteristics of parents who use specific kinds of language with their children, including talk about emotions and talk about mental states, or internal psychological experiences, such as think, know, believe, wish, and hope. These various types of parental talk contribute to children’s emotional and sociocognitive development.
Q: What groups of people did you study and why?
A: We used a subsample from the larger birth-cohort study that included 582 African American and European American families who had both the biological mother and biological father living in the home. We chose this sample because we wanted to understand whether mothers and fathers were similar and whether one parent might influence the other. We also wanted to understand whether ethnicity played a role.
Q: This article was a collaborative effort. What was your experience like working with researchers with diverse backgrounds? Are there pros and cons?
A: Publishing this article was a collaborative effort, and the writing team included a graduate student, mid-level, and senior researchers. I especially enjoyed working with the graduate student, who was lead author, and mentoring her through the manuscript publication process.
Q: Why do you think this research is important?
A: Children who live in rural communities are more likely to experience poverty and are more often geographically isolated from language-rich resources such as libraries. In these contexts, parent language input serves an important role in mitigating children’s risk.
Q: What results did you find?
A: We found that mothers and fathers who were more sensitive and responsive to their children referenced internal psychological experiences, or mental state talk, more often during interactions with their children. We also found that, for African American families only, fathers’ talk positively influenced mothers’ talk. This finding supports minority stress theory which suggests that historical experiences, racial discrimination, and stress may influence coherence and interdependence in parenting practices among minority families.