Early Life Language Experiences: Speech Development and Educational Achievement

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In this In Conversation podcast, Professor Sophie von Stumm, Anna Brown, and Emily Wood explore child language development with a specific focus on the influence of children’s early life language experiences on their speech development and educational achievement.

Sophie, Anna, and Emily are part of the Hungry Mind Lab which studies the causes and consequences of individual differences in cognitive and social emotional development across the life course. Sophie is the Director of the Hungry Mind Lab, Emily is the Project Coordinator, and Anna is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Lab.

Discussion points include:

  • Insight into what the Hungry Mind Lab is.
  • Why the team choose to focus on language and language as a key skill for success in education.
  • The relationship between mother’s everyday language usage and child’s outcomes and performance in school, and how this relates to mother’s socioeconomic status.
  • Are inequalities due to how mothers speak to their children, or do they result from the economic, social, and political inequalities in which mothers raise their children?
  • Should child development research be broadened to include other caregivers, for example fathers?
  • Recommendations for parents, educationalists, policymakers and child and adolescent mental health professionals.


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Sophie von Stumm
Professor Sophie von Stumm

Sophie is Director of the Hungry Mind Lab and Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of York. She studies the causes and consequences of individual differences in learning, integrating theories and methods across the disciplines psychology, education, and behavioural genetics. Her research addresses how family background, early life experiences, and education opportunities inform children’s cognitive and social-emotional development. It builds on secondary data analyses from population cohort studies and on digital assessment technologies for collecting repeated, in-depth, naturalistic observations. One of Sophie’s current foci is to critically evaluate ‘personalised education’, an increasingly popular approach to responding to children’s differential learning needs that seeks to optimize the match between learner and instruction. However, ‘personalising’ education necessarily requires selecting children into some and out of other learning environments, which stands against the principle of equal learning opportunities for all. Achieving equity in education while preserving the equality of educational opportunity is a challenge for education systems around the world. Sophie is a CRISP Fellow for the Jacobs Foundation (2022-2027). In 2022, she held a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship. Sophie’s research is currently also funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Anna Brown
Anna Brown

Anna joined the Hungry Mind Lab in 2023 as postdoctoral researcher on a project funded by the Nuffield Foundation on the role of early language experiences in the transmission of family background inequality. Prior to moving to York, Anna completed her PhD in psychology at the University of Liverpool. Her PhD research investigated the link between language and object development. Anna has also worked as a research assistant on a number of projects, including the LuCiD Language 0-5 Project and the global ManyBabies project. Anna has studied many different aspects of children’s language development to better understand the link between early language environments and later life outcomes. She believes that learning language is a core pillar of our social and psychological development.

Emily Wood
Emily Wood

Emily joined the Hungry Mind Lab in 2023 as project coordinator on a project funded by the Nuffield Foundation on the role of early language experiences in the transmission of family background inequality.  From 2019-2023, Emily completed an Integrated MSc in Psychology at the University of York, specialising in Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. During this time, Emily worked as a research assistant for YorRobots through a Venables Internship, which encourages the integration of robotics into research. Emily later conducted research for the Royal National Institute for Blind People, investigating audio description quality.


[00:00:09.986] Jo Carlowe: Hello, welcome to the In Conversation Podcast series for the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, or ACAMH for short. I’m Jo Carlowe, a Freelance Journalist with a specialism in psychology. Today, I’m interviewing Sophie von Stumm, Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of York and Director of the Hungry Mind Lab. She is joined by Emily Wood, Project Co-ordinator at the Hungry Mind Lab, and Postdoctoral Researcher, Anna Brown.

The Hungry Mind Lab team study the causes and consequences of individual differences in cognitive and social-emotional development across the life course. Today’s podcast will focus on child language development, specifically the influence of children’s early life language experiences on their speech development and educational achievement. If you’re a fan of our In Conversation series, please subscribe on your preferred streaming platform, let us know how we did with a rating or review, and do share with friends and colleagues.

Sophie, Emily and Anna, welcome, nice to meet you. Can you each start with a brief introduction about who you are and what you do?

[00:01:15.000] Professor Sophie von Stumm: I’m Sophie von Stumm. I’m a Professor of Psychology at the University of York, where I also direct the Hungry Mind Lab. We specialise in research into children’s differences in development. We’re trying to understand, for example, why some children do better in school than others, why some grow up having many friends and some grow up with fewer friends. Why some become happy as adults, and others a little bit less happy when they grow up. One of our biggest projects right now evolves around the language that children are exposed to when they’re growing up, and that’s what we’re going to talk about here today.

[00:01:50.690] Jo Carlowe: Fantastic, and Emily and Anna?

[00:01:52.937] Emily Wood: So, I’m Emily. I’m a Project Co-ordinator in the Hungry Mind Lab, working as a Research Assistant on the project that we’re going to discuss today. And I’m also doing my own research looking at twin development and how that differs from singleton development.

[00:02:08.205] Anna Brown: Hi, I’m Anna Brown, so I’m the Research Associate on the project, and my background is primarily in children’s language development. So, before this position, I was at the Liverpool Language Lab, at the University of Liverpool, completing my PhD, which was looking at the link between language and cognitive skills.

[00:02:25.438] Jo Carlowe: Thank you very much, and as we’re already mentioned, you’re all part of the Hungry Mind Lab at the University of York. Sophie, you already introduced a little bit about the Hungry Mind Lab. Can you just give us an overview, a bit of a summary? What is the Hungry Mind Lab?

[00:02:39.988] Professor Sophie von Stumm: The Hungry Mind Lab is essentially, a group of Researchers who have one thing in common, an interest in understanding why we are so different. And so, we’re studying the causes and consequences of children’s differences in cognitive and social-emotional development. That’s in, sort of, broad terms the nutshell of our focus.

We do very different things within that, so as Emily has hinted, she is looking at differences between twins and singletons in their development. In some other work, we’re looking at differences in children’s perceptions of the environment that they’re growing up in and how that affects their long-term mental health. In some studies, we are looking at the way parents interact with their children and how they stimulate them, for example, if they read with them, if they engage them in rhyming and in singing songs, and the extent to which that may inform how children then develop cognitively.

So, it’s a broad range of things, but what ties us together is, in general, a longitudinal perspective. So, we’re trying to study children as they develop over time, the attempt to disentangle environmental and genetic causes of children’s differences, and an idea of trying to understand what are the environments, what are the events, what are the things that we experience that really make a difference for our development?

[00:03:59.400] Jo Carlowe: Great, and today, we’re focusing on child language development. Can you tell us about this project? What have you looked at, and why?

[00:04:07.614] Anna Brown: Yeah, so I’ll take this one. So, the primary aim of the project is looking at the role that early life language environments play in the transmission of inequality. So, I think the first thing is to ask, “Okay, but why language?” And the reason we’ve chosen to focus on language is because, as I said, the aim of our lab is to look at why some children succeed in education and some don’t, and actually, language is a really key skill for success in education. So, even beyond domains that are not necessarily language-based, having sufficient language is really important in education, to be able to chat with your peers, to be able to communicate with Teachers, to understand the curriculum and the materials you’ve been given. So, language is a really key, fundamental skill for success in education.

But then, what we found is, and what has been found for many years, is that, actually, not everybody’s language exposure is equal. So, what we find is that a person’s SES, so their socioeconomic status, that’s traditionally indicated by their occupation, their income, their education, that actually tightly correlates with their language usage. Kind of, based on the pattern that those who have more financial and social resources use more sophisticated language, speak in longer sentences, use a more diverse vocabulary, than those who maybe lack those resources.

And actually, what that means is that if your language is tied to your socioeconomic status, if you have children, then the input your child is receiving is based on your own language ability. And therefore, what is happening is that you are finding this language gap as children enter education. So, this idea was first discovered by Hart and Risley in 1995, which I think a lot of people recognise as the “30 Million Word Gap.” That’s the most famous of it, that those from low SES homes are hearing 30 million less words than those from high SES homes. I’d say research has progressed on from that famous finding, and now what we understand is that it’s more the quality and not just the quantity of input. And maybe that had been exaggerated, but there is a definite language gap that persists. And what that means is, is that children are entering education with an unequal language ability, and this gap is then persisting throughout education.

Onto our project, and what our project is looking at is that ‘cause of that traditional research what’s happened is it’s inadvertently put the blame on mothers for the language that they expose their children to, and it’s very much focused on input and how you’re talking to your child, what’s going towards your child. And actually, the picture might be just a little bit bigger than that, ‘cause although that’s an important part of it, it’s an important part of the puzzle, it’s probably not the full picture.

So, specifically, what this project is aiming to look at is to actually look at mother’s speech when talking to a fellow Researcher, so, what we would call “adult directed speech,” so her everyday language usage. And we, basically, want to see, does a mother’s everyday language usage, does that predict her child’s outcomes and how well her child performs in school? And then, importantly, how does this relate to her socioeconomic status? So, is her language usage a possible pathway in which inequality is being transmitted?

[00:07:08.748] Jo Carlowe: That’s really helpful. I want to dig a bit deeper into some of the findings in a moment, but can you say a little bit more about the methodology? How did you set about examining this?

[00:07:19.597] Emily Wood: For this research, we’ve used data from a cohort study. So, the study’s called E-Risk, and it’s taken data from over a 1,000 families, who’ve all gave birth to twins in the mid-90s. And what happened was they sampled these families, they got in touch with them as they gave birth to these twins, and they followed the twins as they’ve developed throughout their life. And they’re still collecting data today, so the twins are about to turn 30, and they’re still getting that data. And what a cohort study like that does is it gives us the opportunity to look at the environment that the child was in when they were young and then, what they’ve gone on to achieve in their later life, and we can, sort of, look at the relationships there.

So, when the twins were about five years old, the Researchers actually went to the homes of these families, and they interviewed the mothers and asked them what it’s been like having twins. And they recorded them on these cassette tapes, which we’ve now had access to, and have had them transcribed. So, we’ve listened to these conversations that the mothers have had with these adult Researchers, and we’ve got the transcripts of those, which we’ve then fed to a language analysis software. So, what we’ve been able to do is look at the language of the mother and analyse it for complexity. So, things like, how many different words does the mother use? How many different tenses does she use when she’s talking? Different rare words used, compared to words that we’d use every day, and we’ve used those different markers to look at the complexity of the mother’s speech.

And then, because we’ve got all this data on the twins as they’ve grown up, looking at their language development, their cognitive abi – development and how well they’ve done at school, we can then make comparisons between the language they were exposed to when they were young from the mother and then, how they’ve gone on to perform at school. And we’ve also got the SES information that Anna was talking about earlier, so things like the mother’s occupation, their income and their education level. So, we can look at all these things in one big picture to see how they all relate to one another.

[00:09:25.929] Jo Carlowe: Thank you, Emily, really helpful, and what did you find? What were the key findings that emerged?

[00:09:32.508] Anna Brown: So, I think we’ve probably got three key findings, all, kind of, related to the theme that maybe mothers’ language dictating a children’s outcome may be slightly overstated.  So, our first key finding was that, actually, only one of our three language characteristics predicted children’s educational outcomes, and that was the number or rare words that a mother used did predict their child’s reading ability and cognitive skills. But the number of different words that she used, so how varied her vocabulary was, and, also, her use of sentences and tense, that didn’t predict her children’s outcome. So, really only a small proportion of her language seemed important in predicting outcomes. That’s probably our first key finding.

Second key finding is in terms of, okay, how does this relate to inequality? And that was that, actually, mother’s SES was very weakly related to her speech. So, our SES indicators, such as occupation, income, her mother’s education, that didn’t predict her use of language as strongly as we would have thought. So, occupation didn’t predict any of her language usage, and her in – household income and mother’s education, that did predict their use of vocabulary, but not very strongly. Only predicted a very strong percentage of the variation in her language. So, it, kind of, suggests to us that her inequality is probably more in life conditions and everyday life, more than it is in her language.

And then our final, kind of, finding, bringing it all together, was that mother’s SES predicts those educational traits much stronger than her language. So, those SES indicators I just discussed, that was a much bigger predictor for her child’s outcomes than her own language. And I think that’s the really important thing to focus on, is that, actually, SES and these family background indicators, there are many pathways to which they can be transmitted from parent to child, and actually, language is just one of those pathways. And in our study, it wasn’t a particularly strong pathway, because SES was still having a stronger effect than language.

[00:11:32.187] Jo Carlowe: And SES, just to remind listeners, is – it’s social-economic status you’re talking?

[00:11:36.857] Anna Brown: Yes, sorry, yes, socioeconomic status.

[00:11:39.012] Jo Carlowe: Yeah. Were you surprised by those findings?

[00:11:42.475] Anna Brown: Yes, I think so. I think it’s tricky, because I think a lot of the previous research relied on – because of the nature of trying to collect this data of mothers’ input to children and things, it relies on small sample sizes, and these, kind of, proxy measures of language. So, it’s quite a hard thing to capture somebody’s language, ‘cause you’re turning something quite qualitative into quantitative. So, there’s a lot of method restrictions, and because of that, I think previous studies had small samples, used these, kind of, proxy measures, so I think it was likely that those studies might have had inflated effect sizes, and maybe predicted stronger things than were really there. So, it wasn’t too surprising. I think what I found most surprising was that SES didn’t predict more of her language, because that – if this input model is correct in this pathway between mother and child, you really need SES to be connected to language, and actually, that’s not really what we found in this study.

[00:12:35.225] Professor Sophie von Stumm: One reason why the findings may have been surprising is that I think, like in all scientific explanations, we are prone to following the fallacy of simplicity. So, the observation that children’s early life environments differ greatly across families is a very frequent one. The observation that this difference is particular in their language environments is a very stark observation, and the 30 million Word Gap, a difference of such magnitude, how could it not possibly explain a lot of the differences that we observe between children? And so, intuitively, it just seemed like a very good explanation for a very complex problem. The consequence, of course, is there’s always, as they say, there is always a really good simple answer to every question, and that simple answer is wrong.

So, basically, by focusing narrowly on something that is likely to be part of the picture, but doesn’t really draw the full one, we are missing an opportunity to intervene effectively and to help children develop better. And I think, in terms of surprise factor, we were certain that our sample was much lighter than previous studies. And in lighter samples, you tend to observe smaller effect sizes, because you have greater variance, you are more representative. But I think what did surprise us, really, is how great the difference is between what is commonly assumed to be a major explanation for children’s differences in language development and school performance and our findings in the study.

[00:14:10.488] Jo Carlowe: So, my next question is going to be too simplistic, but in your view, are inequalities due to how mothers speak to their children, or do they result from the economic, social and political inequalities in which mothers raise their children?

[00:14:27.794] Professor Sophie von Stumm: Well, it’s obviously difficult to say it’s one or the other. It is a mixture between the two. But what we have seen in the applied side of things, with practitioners and policymakers, is a very concentrated focus on the within family environment. So, there’s a lot of interventions that target how mothers speak to their children, in the hope that that would help children to develop the language skills and the cognitive abilities that are necessary for them to do well in school.

Some of these interventions show good effects, but most of them fade out over time, meaning that children do adapt and parents change their language a little bit, and then children do a little bit better. But the moment you stop the intervention, the effect goes away, and there are no long-lasting effects of these interventions, which, in turn, has led to a questioning of interventions, in general, because it has eroded, a little bit, public trust. And you could conclude from these, sort of, findings that intervening doesn’t really work for children. Like, either you are good at school or you are not, but we can’t do that much to change it. And we think that narrative is dangerously narrow and wrong, and it prohibits us from thinking about the broader picture and the social and economical inequalities that mothers are surrounded by and that they raise their children in.

So, when we do these kind of analysis, we tend to focus on the within family level, because that is the, sort of, data that has been collected and that’s intuitively where we start our study. So, when we say ‘socioeconomic status’, these are things we measure in the family. We ask the mothers, “How many years have you spent in full-time education?” We don’t ask, “In the country that you live in, how many years of full-time education were offered to you, or were possible for you?” or, “What kind of obstacles did you come up against?” We don’t consider the wider picture as much as we probably should, and that is a huge challenge. It’s not that we try to be reductionist or ignorant. It’s just very difficult to combine the family level, the child level and then, see the broader picture, to try and understand how children’s differences in development emerge.

[00:16:44.668] Jo Carlowe: Really interesting. So far, we’ve been talking about mothers, and child development research tends to focus on mothers. Is there a need to broaden this out to other caregivers and obviously, to fathers?

[00:16:57.049] Emily Wood: Yeah, I’d say so, 100%. I think, obviously, particularly modern day families, it’s not necessarily the mother who’s always that sole caregiver. Actually, fathers these days are having a much bigger role in raising children, as do other members of the family. Grandparents might be involved, siblings might be involved, and these people are going to be having a real impact on the development of the child. As you say, traditionally, mothers are the sole focus, and I think in research, we see that that spotlight is on mothers. And I do think that coming up to the present day now, we do need to be taking, sort of, more of a modern approach and looking at other people who are involved.

For this study, unfortunately, we only had access to data from mothers and mothers’ speech, and that’s why we focused on that and have used the phrase ‘mothers’ throughout the conversation. But I think definitely, if there was that information available for fathers’ speech, or for other, sort of, caregivers, people who take a big role in raising the children, if we had access to information on them, as well, then we’d have loved to have included that. And I think that’s something that we’d hopefully, strive to do in future a little bit more.

[00:18:11.052] Professor Sophie von Stumm: There are two big challenges for involving fathers. The first one is the traditional view that the mother is the primary caregiver, which, statistically speaking, she continues to be. She spends more time on average with the children than fathers do, and that is part of the reason why research is focused on the mothers. The other is that fathers are very, very reluctant to participate in research. It’s very difficult to get them to fill in a survey, to tell something about the children on tape, to come and bring a child to a lab-based study. And so, even in datasets where data from fathers has been collected, they’re very often excluded from the analysis because the numbers are so small that you don’t achieve the statistical power that you need to include them.

That said, it is perhaps also worth raising that single mother households are the largest family demographic today in the UK and the fastest growing one. 40% of children today are no longer born into married or even cohabitating couple households, but to single parents, and the vast majority of those are mothers. So, the focus on mothers is definitely only telling part of the picture, but it is, also, at the same time, true that mothers do continue to play a very significant role in child rearing. And therefore, understanding how they can influence their children, or what the limits of that influence are, is very important, as important today as it used to be a few years ago when traditional family models were more frequent than they are now.

[00:19:43.069] Jo Carlowe: Thank you, important context. What recommendations emerged from your research for stakeholders? So, that includes parents, educationalists, CAMH professionals and policymakers, and I appreciate that you might want to take those groups separately.

[00:19:59.628] Anna Brown: So, I can take on parents. I think this kind of research is difficult, ‘cause, especially in our one, we’re talking about language patterns and that is hard and difficult to adapt. I don’t think you would ever want to advise anyone to change differently. And I think part of the narrative of all this previous research that has built up to our project has inadvertently, sort of, added to this parental blame and put a lot of the responsibility of the child outcomes on the mother, and dictating, “It’s your language that predicts your child’s outcomes,” which just puts a lot of responsibility on the mother.

So, I think what we would want our research to do is not to contribute to that, but to, kind of, empower parents that the pathways that they’re parenting their child and the social climate and the economic climate they’re parenting their child is beyond their control. And that is partly the reason why we see these differences in equality, and therefore, as Sophie, kind of, said, targeting at that family level might not be the most appropriate way. So, in terms of how our results – recommendations we’d make to parents, I don’t think we would make any recommendation to parents. But we would hope that the narrative of our study, kind of, helps to alleviate that responsibility on parents.

[00:21:09.708] Emily Wood: Yeah, I’d, sort of, echo that for Educationalists, as well, that I think, you know, Teachers, they’re already under so much pressure to deliver and have these improved outcomes for their students. And, you know, they’re doing their best, and I don’t think we’re in a position to recommend they do different things. Actually, they’re already doing an amazing job and it is these, sort of, overarching structures that are causing these issues within equality, and actually, I don’t think it should be put on Educators to fix those issues, actually. So, again, I wouldn’t maybe recommend any change in them, but just to keep doing their best and delivering the resources that they are.

[00:21:52.951] Professor Sophie von Stumm: With regards to policy, I think the greatest challenge is to engage families policymakers with the research. Family policy is notoriously difficult, and, in particular, in the UK, it hasn’t fared very well. The flagship Family Policy Programme assumes a deficit model, that families create problems for their children because of the way the children are raised. The name of this programme has been changed several times, in recognition of the fact that it was very much implying deficits.

So, I think the original name was Problem Families, and the idea was that problem families should receive financial resources in addition to help them deal with their problem children, so that these problem children wouldn’t become a problem for society. And that is very much an approach that has been demonstrated to be completely ineffective, and to place blame and responsibility with families, and to foster social exclusion and discrimination. So, it is absolutely not helpful. And what we would be hoping with our, kind of, work, that there is a way of starting a conversation to say, “Perhaps we need to take a different look at the issue at hand and find new ways for trying to help families make better decisions, or raise their children in ways that help them to better afford the opportunities that we think society is currently offering at them.”

As we hinted before, and Anna made that point very strongly, children come with very different abilities to school. So, if we believe that we offer them equal opportunities, that is actually probably an illusion. As long as we hold onto this illusion, we won’t be able to establish a fair playing ground for everybody, and it’s overcoming that idea that we’re trying to work on a little bit. But it’s very early days, our research has not been published yet and we’re just trying to pave the way. So, influencing policy is a long-term goal for us, but not something that we see happening in the immediate future.

[00:24:01.853] Jo Carlowe: What about CAMH professionals? Especially given your earlier observation that interventions don’t seem to have a lasting impact, what would be your thoughts or message to them?

[00:24:14.755] Professor Sophie von Stumm: I think CAMH professionals are really being hit hard these days, by discouraging messaging that their work is not important, achieves the wrong kind of outcomes, or doesn’t make much of a difference. And again, I think that this, kind of, conclusion stems from a narrative that we have inadvertently promoted in academic science, or in research, that there are interventions that have large effects, we just have to do it right, and it turns out that is just not the case.

There are many thousands and thousands and thousands of little things that create differences in children. If we find one tiny bit that we can effectively manipulate through an intervention, we should be grateful for that and do that, and not expect that we will have massive changes as a result. It’s unfortunately, a consequence of operating in an environment where resources are limited, that we always ask, “How can we have the maximum returns of benefits from the resources that we have?” And so, a lot of government policies follow that model where they say, “If we give you £100, we want to see that you become a top athlete.” And you’re like, “Well, that is probably not going to happen,” and as a consequence we don’t debate should it have been more, or should we have offered an addition, perhaps running trainers or something like that? But we say, “Ah, interventions don’t work and don’t try so hard.”

And I think for people who are working at the frontline of this, it is particularly important to be reminded every now and then that there is a recognition of the challenges that they’re up against, that it is appreciated what they’re doing, and that if the changes are small, if they’re only for one child at an occasion, that that is good enough, and that that is what we actually need and want.

[00:26:03.242] Jo Carlowe: Sophie, thank you for making that point. Are you planning any follow-up research, or is there anything else in the pipeline that you would like to share with us?

[00:26:12.525] Anna Brown: Yeah, so the next stage of our research is actually to look at genetics. So, to see what the relationship between mother’s and child’s language, what role genetics plays in that, which I think some people find quite scary, and hear the word ‘genetics’ and have assumptions about what that might mean in our research. But actually, we’re incorporating that because, as Sophie said, there is not a simple answer, there’s a much bigger picture here, and in order to get to that bigger picture, we need to look at the genetics.

‘Cause actually, all that previous research that I’ve spoken about that looked at the relationship between the speech that mothers direct at their children and the children’s later outcomes, the vast majority of mothers and children in that research are genetically related.  And we know from a lot of previous twin studies that there is a genetic component to language. And it is somewhat genetically determined, not wholly, but somewhat, and in order to understand this complicated answer of things, it’s important to know how much is genetically determined. So, how much is not due to mothers’ input in those studies, but actually, just due to the fact that she has a genetic propensity for language that she then passes onto her child?

So, luckily in our data, it is a cohort study with twins and because of that, we have genetically sensitive data available to us. So, we have information about the mother’s genetic propensity for language, as well as the children’s, and we can look at the relationship compared with, also, that environmental pathway. And by looking at both those pathways together it helps us to look at, okay, how much of the variation can be explained due to environment or due to genetics? And I do think, in order to get to that bigger picture, it’s important we look at that pathway.

[00:27:52.855] Professor Sophie von Stumm: One – it brings us back to that idea of effective environmental interventions. So, there is a chance of genetic confounding in the associations that we observe. The way mothers speak with their children and the way children learn to speak, are likely to have a common core, at least to a certain extent, that may be genetic. And by controlling for that in a statistical model, we can see what is the true relationship between language environment and child development, once we have controlled for that common genetic factor.

This is why we are particularly interested in genetics in this context. It’s not so much to find out how much of the differences are due to genetic differences and how much are due to environmental differences. It’s mostly to say, “If we found an environmental cause, how much can we expect that it will make a difference?” So, we can have realistic expectations for effect sizes, that then again, will help us to build trust and confidence in interventions when they happen, rather than say, “Oh well, we found this massive association between A and B. We don’t quite know where it comes from.” We hope that we will see long-term and big effects as a result of that.

[00:29:03.260] Jo Carlowe: Hmmm, thank you. Finally, what are your take home messages for our listeners?

[00:29:09.593] Anna Brown: I think one of our take home messages is that – to not attribute so much blame on the family and the family level things, and say that it’s – that whole idea that your parents didn’t provide you with enough enrichment and all that kind of thing, is maybe an idea that is overstated. And we need to consider the wider social climate that parents are raising their children in, and not to say that if a child is entering school with lower language, then that is not our job to blame the parents on that. It’s just our job to say, okay, how best can we help them now, once they enter education?

[00:29:49.188] Jo Carlowe: Emily?

[00:29:49.943] Emily Wood: I think, similarly, to just have that acknowledgement that children aren’t all starting school at that same level of readiness, and to just have, sort of, an understanding of that, an empathy for that, without pointing the finger at who’s to blame. And generally, to just offer support for the children that are starting at a, sort of, disadvantage, and doing what we can to encourage them to have all the same opportunities that any other child would in the classroom.

[00:30:18.462] Jo Carlowe: Sophie?

[00:30:19.982] Professor Sophie von Stumm: Well, again, there’s little to add. I think we covered the main points. But from a different point of view, our work will help to respect children to a greater extent as the independent agents that they were. They do construct, shape and select their environments according to their own likings and propensities, and the idea that we can manipulate them and shape them into what they should be is one that every parent has. It is a necessary precondition to having a child. It’s something that every Teacher believes in, otherwise they couldn’t do their job. It’s something that every mental health practitioner needs to follow as a principle guideline, that we can do good for others by influencing them.

But sometimes, we then turn this around, and when we’re not successful or not as successful as we had hoped, we blame ourselves and we feel responsible. And I think that is something that can potentially be dangerous for us and for the children that we dispense our help for. So, it is also important to remember, children are individuals. As people say when their children are born, “You came, and you were already who you are.” There is only so much you can do, and only so much you should take responsibility for. Children do make their own lives, they select from what we offer. Sometimes they select the things we definitely don’t want them to pick on. Every parent knows that when a child learns the one word that they should not know, but all the other beautiful things that we offer they forget and ignore.

And so, it is really trying to think about how can we create environments that make children do good choices, without feeling that we have forced them to, or that it is our responsibility that they make certain choices and not others.

[00:32:10.580] Jo Carlowe: Wonderful. Sophie, Emily and Anna, thank you so much. For more details on Professor Sophie von Stumm, Emily Wood and Anna Brown, please visit the ACAMH website, www.acamh.org, and Twitter @ACAMH. ACAMH is spelt A-C-A-M-H, and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred streaming platform, let us know if you enjoy the podcast, with a rating or review, and do share with friends and colleagues.

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