It’s Your Turn: The Dynamics of Conversational Turn-Taking in Father-Child and Mother-Child Interaction

  • Linda Kelly (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Elizabeth Nixon orcid logo (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Jean Quigley orcid logo (Trinity College Dublin)


The aim of this study was to elucidate the interactive and temporal features of conversational turn-taking during father-child and mother-child play and investigate associations with children’s cognitive and language abilities. Eighty typically developing two-year-olds (M = 24.06 months, SD = 1.39) and their biological mothers and fathers took part in the current study which consisted of a single visit to an Infant and Child Lab. Parent-child conversational turn-taking was measured from dyadic structured play interactions, as well as parents’ verbal turn-taking behaviours including length of turn, questions, and contingent responsiveness. Child language and cognitive skills were directly assessed using standardised measures. Results indicated that there was greater balance in conversational turn-taking during father-child play. However, mothers were more responsive to their child’s vocalisations during interaction. Mothers’ and fathers’ use of questions effectively scaffolded children’s participation in conversation. Finally, controlling for mother-child conversational turn-taking, father-child conversational turn-taking did not account for any unique variance in child cognitive skills. Regression analyses failed to demonstrate predictive associations between parent-child conversational turn-taking and child language skills. These findings present new insights into the dynamics of mother-child and father-child conversational turn-taking during play as well as the nature of the contribution of father-child linguistic exchanges to child development.

Keywords: cognitive development, language development, conversational turn-taking, child-directed speech, fathers

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Published on
09 Feb 2022
Peer Reviewed