Mothers’ distancing language relates to young children's math and literacy skills

Andrew D. Ribner, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Lynn S. Liben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parents’ distancing language—language that requires cognitive abstraction and moves beyond the “here and now”—relates to children's literacy skills, but its association with mathematics remains unexamined. Participants were 242 mother–child dyads from African American, Chinese American, Dominican American, and Mexican American backgrounds. Mothers’ distancing language was examined while mothers shared a wordless book with their 5-year-olds; children's math and literacy skills were assessed when children were 5.0 and 6.5 years of age. Mothers’ distancing language, but not amount of language (word tokens), related to children's concurrent math and literacy skills. Mothers’ distancing language predicted growth in children's literacy skills over time and related to later math indirectly through associations with early math. The importance of distancing language for cognitive growth may have implications for parenting and classroom practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104863
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Booksharing
  • Distancing language
  • Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Path analysis
  • School readiness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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