Parent (Teacher)-Responsiveness (aka Mindfulness)

After I wrote in You Try It A Hundred Times that “only then, when you can both communicate effectively, can you have a real relationship. I don’t know if research supports me, but my experience has taught me that only in such a relationship can real learning occur,” I became obsessed with finding out if, indeed, research would support me. Well, it does.

     In their book NurtureShock, Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman address language development in young children. Firstly, they discredit the Baby Einstein-type products (a discrediting also based on research by a University of Washington team) as actually detrimental to language development in infants. Yes, detrimental. The opposite of helpful, according to the Washington researchers. Secondly, they acknowledge that the “richness of language exposure” correlates strongly with increased vocabulary in children zero to three. Speaking to children helps their language development. That seems obvious. But what isn’t so obvious is what needs to happen when the children speak to us. And what does need to happen in order for language development to increase?

     Dr. Catherine Tamis-LeMonda explores parent-responsiveness to infants and how that responsiveness impacts language development. Here’s what she found: the number of mother-initiated conversations did not predict how well a child’s language developed, but the number of responses that a mother made to infant-initiated “conversations” positively impacted language development. Learning language, according to Tamis-LeMonda, correlates strongly with parental responsiveness. So research does support my intuition that mindful presence with young children establishes effective communication and real relationships and that then learning can occur.

     Michael Goldstein (Cornell University) shored up Tamis-LeMonda’s work by showing that, more than just a correlation, parent-responsiveness causes infants to speed up their language development.

     Is this intuitive to teachers and parents? I’m not sure. It was to me as a parent and as a teacher. However, my goal was never to speed up language development. I simply wanted my own children and my students to feel heard. So, I worked (and still do) very hard to show by facial expression, voice response and touch that I am present, listening and responding. Dare I say that the simple act of loving another human creates fertile ground for brain development? It seems research would support me.

© 2015 Shelley Welch