, Volume 17, Issue 9, pp 1701-1711
Date: 13 Nov 2012

Early Growth of Mexican–American Children: Lagging in Preliteracy Skills but not Social Development

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Abstract

Latino toddlers fall behind White peers at 24 months of age in oral language and interactive skills with their mothers in English or Spanish. But Latino children enter kindergarten with social skills that rival White peers, despite social-class disparities. We ask whether cognitive trajectories widen during the 24–48 month period, how these patterns differ for Latinos, especially Mexican–Americans, and whether similar gaps in social-emotional growth appear. We analyzed growth patterns for a nationally representative birth sample (n = 4,690) drawn in 2001, estimating levels of change in development from 24 to 48 months of age, focusing on Latino subgroups. The mean gap in cognitive processing for Mexican–American children, already wide at 24-months of age relative to Whites (three-fourths of a standard deviation), remained constant at 48 months. But differences in social-emotional status were statistically insignificant at both 24 and 48 months. Mexican–American mothers were observed to be equally warm and supportive relative to White peers during interaction tasks. Yet the former group engaged less frequently in cognitive facilitation, oral language, and preliteracy activities in the home. Growth in both cognitive and social domains was considerably lower in larger families, placing children raised in poor or Spanish-speaking homes within a large household at greater risk of delays. Pediatricians and practitioners must carefully gauge the social-emotional well-being of Latino children, in developmental surveillance activities. Growth in cognitive and social domains unfolds independently for children of Mexican heritage, even when raised in economically poor families.