Do Mums and Dads Read Differently to their Children?

There is plenty of evidence to support the positive effects of reading with babies and young children. The benefits of reading aloud with children extend beyond language and literacy. Sharing books can also help children’s emotional and social development and is a great way for families to spend quality time together to build and strengthen family relationships.

Dads and other father figures encourage wider conversations about the books they are sharing

Children benefit from stories – it doesn’t matter who is reading to them. However, research is now starting to highlight the different ways men and women share picture books with children. According to recent research, dads (and other father figures) tend to use more complex and varied language and encourage wider conversations about the books they are sharing. 

Books already contain more diverse language than conversational speech. Books also have the ability to open up topics of discussion that don’t typically come up in day-to-day conversation. But in order for children to learn new words, they need to talk about them, understand them, and get to experience them. And research is showing that dads have a tendency to do this more than mums.

Mums have been known to connect more with emotion, whereas dads and father figures tend to connect more with experiences

Another important difference in the way mums and dads read aloud is in their distancing, or non-immediate talk. This is when something in the book isn't physically present at the time of reading, but can be talked about in relation to the child’s wider world. It could be talking about an experience or emotion, or even a physical object. If you’re sharing a book about a bus, for example, you may talk about your experience of going on the bus - where you went, what you saw. This non-immediate talk is a great way to develop children’s thinking and relating skills. It also plays a strong role in helping children see books as exciting and relevant.

Although both mums and dads will do this, mums have been known to connect more with emotion, whereas dads and father figures tend to connect more with experiences or link an object in the book to a child’s experience. 

Dr. Elisabeth Duursma, who conducted research on mothers' and fathers' reading outcomes in the US, has also found that mums tend to ask more questions that are related directly to the text e.g. how many of an object the child can see. Dads, on the other hand, tend to engage in broader questions that encourage discussion. Further studies also suggest that dads are more likely to use engagement techniques like funny voices when reading aloud to their children.

These are just some of the ways mums and dads read differently to children. Children will benefit from stories no matter who is reading to them, but knowing that males and females tend to use slightly different techniques means that children benefit even more when story time is a shared experience in the family. 


Further Reading:

The effects of fathers' and mothers' reading to their children on language outcomes of children participating in early head start in the United States by Anna E. Duursma University of Wollongong (2014).

Who does the reading, who the talking? Low-income fathers and mothers in the US interacting with their young children around a picture book by Elisabeth Duursma (2016)