An infant's family background affects its progress in predictable ways, but it is not the best means of anticipating later language and play skills, says a study of more than 200 mothers and their babies, led by Dr Elizabeth Meins, of the University of Durham.
Half the women involved had no education beyond 16, and were unemployed or in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. But the study found that it was judging how well a mother understood how her baby ticked, not assessing her social and financial status, which gave the best steer as to the child's development.
Dr Meins said: "In recent years, largely through Government initiatives such as Sure Start, people have become increasingly aware of a link between poverty and delays in key areas such as speech and play. "But little was known about which aspects of such schemes may help, because the reasons for the link were poorly understood."
Now, the research team are passing on their findings to professionals working with children so that vital advice can be given to parents and vulnerable infants.
In the study, mothers who are good at 'reading' their off-springs' emotions and state of mind are described as being more 'mind-minded'.
Dr Meins said: "A priority is to help parents to be 'mind-minded' when interacting with their babies. Among other things, we are discussing with Sure Start colleagues, ways in which training can be given."
The study, which focussed on babies at eight, 14 and 24 months, included making videos of mother-and-child play sessions, and noting what was said by the women at the time. Comments were deemed appropriate if a mother appeared to be 'reading' her child correctly, such as remarking that the baby was content when quietly playi
Contact: Becky Gammon
Economic & Social Research Council