Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Parents’ Physically Performative Behaviors During Shared Book Reading: A Comparison of Mothers and Fathers

Laura Cutler, Parents’ physically performative behaviors during shared book reading: A comparison of mothers and fathers, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 64, 2023, Pages 129-138, ISSN 0885-2006, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2023.02.009.,

Access: Institutional Access

Publication year


study description


core topic(s)

Shared Reading

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Home Language/Literacy/Learning Environment , Parent Behaviors and Skills , Parent-Child Relationships/Interactions


This research explores the physically performative behaviors demonstrated by mothers and fathers during shared book reading (SBR) activities with their young children.


Shared Book Reading

outcomes evaluated

Physically performative behaviors demonstrated by parents during SBR, including hand/body gestures, facial expressions, voice, pointing, and proximity to the child while reading


At home or at child's childcare site


Separate observations of fathers and mothers reading with their preschool-aged child (Mage = 46 months) were conducted with 40 families. Video-recorded observations were coded and analyzed for the physically performative behaviors demonstrated by parents during SBR, including hand/body gestures, facial expressions, voice, pointing, and proximity to the child while reading.

sample size

40 families (80 adult participants and 40 child participants)


Physically Performative Behaviors Checklist (PPBC)


Findings from the Actor Partner Interdependence Model reveal actor effects for the relationship between parental physical behaviors and parental affect, but no partner effects. Results also demonstrate similarities and differences in the stylistic approaches mothers and fathers used during the SBR task, with mothers demonstrating more physical behaviors, and fathers engaging in more interconnected physical contact with their children.


This research contributes to the existing SBR literature by providing original observational data regarding mothers’ and fathers’ physicality during shared reading activities and how these physical behaviors contribute to the overall quality of parent-child SBR experiences.


There are several limitations of this study that are important to note. First, the sample consisted primarily of White, very highly educated, employed, and co-habitating married mothers and fathers. Although there was a wide variation in the frequencies and types of behaviors adults demonstrated, it is important to consider the demographic homogeneity of the sample when interpreting study findings. Furthermore, just the act of engaging in physical behaviors and gestures while communicating may vary across different cultures (Capirci & Volterra, 2008; Kita, 2009). Thus, although gesturing while reading with young children is common (Bus & van Ijzendoorn, 1997; Munzer, 2019), it is highly possible that this would vary depending on the reader's cultural, ethnic, and racial background as well as their own prior experiences with being read to. As such, future studies should focus on using a more ethnically, racially, and demographically diverse sample, including participants from a variety of family structures, to explore if findings from this investigation can be replicated with a more representative sample. The design decision to provide families with a specific book to read, instead of allowing them to select a book or use a book from their personal collection, may have influenced their SBR experience. Though this procedure is common in SBR research (Bergman Deitcher et al., 2021; Vandermaas-Peeler et al., 2012) because it allows for consistency across participants and accounts for variations in families’ access to literacy materials, it may have created an atypical reading experience for families. Moreover, the use of only one book that could potentially appeal to both children and parents is another potential limitation of this study. Though this method has been used in previous SBR research (Anderson et al., 2004, 2012), it is possible that having both mother-child and father-child dyads read the same book created similar patterns of physicality during the SBR task. Additional research is warranted which explores the types of physical behaviors parents engage in while reading an assortment of books, including familiar books, books from various genres, wordless picture books, and digital books to determine if different types of books and experiences elicit different physical behaviors from parent readers and if these vary between fathers and mothers. A final limitation of this research is its reliance on parental perceived ratings of their children's enjoyment of the SBR activity. Although asking parents to report on behalf of their children is common in research exploring parent-child shared reading (Vandermaas-Peeler et al., 2012), it does not give children the opportunity to self-report. Future research which also includes children's self-reported enjoyment of the SBR activity could provide a more robust understanding of parent-child SBR experiences and parent-child relationship quality.