Mothers' Verbal and Nonverbal Strategies in Relation to Infants' Object-Directed Actions in Real Time and Across the First Three Years in Ethnically Diverse Families

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We examined maternal behavioral strategies in relation to infants' object-directed actions in real time and over developmental time in 206 mother-infant dyads from African American, Dominican immigrant, and Mexican immigrant backgrounds. Mothers were asked to share a set of beads and strings with their infants when children were 14, 24, and 36 months. We coded three types of maternal strategies-eliciting attention, instructive assistance, and encouragement-which could be expressed verbally (e.g., "look", "turn it", "good job!") or physically (i.e., through gestures, hands-on guidance, or transfer of objects). We also coded infants' unassisted bead-stringing. Across ethnic groups and ages, mothers' hands-on guidance and object transfer increased the likelihood that infants would follow with unassisted bead-stringing during real-time interaction. Over developmental time, mothers modified their strategies: They displayed fewer attention-getting strategies and more encouragement across infant ages, and peaked in their provision of instructive assistance when infants were 24 months. Additionally, Mexican mothers displayed more nonverbal strategies (e.g., gestures, hands-on guidance) than did African American and/or Dominican mothers, who displayed more verbal strategies (e.g., attention-getting and encouraging language). Developmental and real-time patterns in mother-infant object-related interactions generalize across ethnicities, although mothers' emphases on specific strategies are culture specific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-89
Number of pages25
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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