Toddlers are the ones that instigate conversation with their parents, contrary to popular belief that claims mothers encourage communication, a study suggests.
Researchers found that young children not only initiate conversation more than their mums and dads, but they also choose the topics.
Conversation is important for language development and previous studies have shown that children begin to develop the skill at a young age, researchers claim.
The new research lays down the groundwork to understand how mothers and fathers interact with their children.
It also provides a template of how to use high-tech methods that are only very recently available to target new approaches to help parents interact.
Experts miked up 17 toddlers – about 30-months-old – and gathered day-long audio recordings of conversations with their parents.
The team used automatic speech recognition technology to sift through more than 1,400 hours of recordings.
Study leader associate professor Mark VanDam, of Washington State University, said: ‘I was surprised that kids were drivers of conversation.
‘This is exciting, because kids are active participants in shaping their own world. They have the freedom to pick what they talk about and when.
He said that this type of work would have been impossible a few decades ago but with the power of computers and automatic speech recognition they have been able to develop a new dataset that takes place in a naturalistic setting rather than in a lab.
The team started the study to understand how toddlers interacted with each parent.
In particular, they wanted to explore who initiated the conversation in the family and if there were any differences in the conversations between boys and girls.
The team normalised the conversations to account for families that were naturally chattier.
They found that children more frequently initiated conversations with their parents, followed by the mother and then the father. The study was limited to different-sex parenting households.
Doctor VanDam said: ‘There is a ton of evidence that girls at this age have a better command of language, but we found no difference in how boys and girls initiated conversation.
‘We also did not see any sex differences in how the children spoke to either parent.’
He said the results lay the groundwork to understand how mothers and fathers interact with their children.
‘These results provide a template of how to use high-tech methods that are only very recently available to target new approaches to help moms and dads interact with their kids,’ he added.
‘We could use this information to develop new targeted therapies to help children that have language delay or behavioural issues and to improve the ways we interact with computers.’
The findings are due to be presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Kentucky.