Child drawing

Family, Learning and Interaction

About us

The FLINT (Family, Learning and Interaction) research theme at Early Start brings together researchers with expertise in infancy, attachment, parent-child conversation, parental mental health, the home learning environment, early literacy, and the role of fathers, to address important questions about interactive processes in development. We ask how infants make sense of the busy world around them, and how parents and carers support their child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Children don't know what's important to them that there's sort of like an open book everything is exciting to them everything is distracting and it's our job as adults to guide them towards the things that are really going to help them over the long term.  

Hi I'm Jane Herbert I'm the research team leader of the early start theme Family Learning and Interaction. A research theme is a combination of researchers from education and psychology and we're really interested in how children learn about the world, so how do they make sense of things and then how the parents support that learning.   

Parents are children's first teachers, so we need to actually invest time learning about what are children doing in those first years of life when they're at home with their parents. To be honest a lot of the research hasn't been done yet and so our research theme is really interested in being that core of knowledge helping parents understand what things are really important and then as the children get older if there are problems happening at home our research theme is working out why the interventions work or don't work for particular families, but a lot of our findings are really starting to come to fruition so really simple things like knowing how important it is for children to have a sleep after they've learned something so we often think about the best time for children to learn when they're wide awake but actually our research shows that they remember things really well just before they go to sleep.   

When we find other things that are just really simple that parents can do then we want to pass on that knowledge, to make sure that people understand that we're not coming and telling them that they're doing things wrong, but actually just giving them tips and hints that we know can improve the outcome for their child.  

Often our families coming in they're struggling in some way and they're not communicating very efficiently or effectively with their children, rather than telling them what to do we have them come into the lab and we see what they do we see them working together and then we feed them information over a microphone on ways that they could change the behaviour after a period of 10 weeks they no longer really need us so that's our real success when they can walk away as a family who know how to communicate with each other. 

The quality of parent-child interaction has long been recognised as critical in children’s development during the early years. Through observational research in Wollongong Infant Learning Lab (WILL) at Early Start, we ask questions about parent-child interactions in the home environment that contribute to the emergence of early learning, literacy and numeracy and socio-emotional well-being. Through our alignment with the establishment of Northfields Clinic at Early Start, we ask questions about the ways in which families experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage interact. We believe that intervening in early interactive processes provides a unique opportunity for prevention.


Josie McNamara
Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical Psychology)
Maternal Wellbeing and Attachment During Pregnancy and the Early Postpartum Period

Meagan Baltoski
Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical Psychology)
Maternal Anxiety, Parent-Child Interactions, and the Development of Early Numeracy Skill

Sophie Russell
Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical Psychology)
Remember the Time?’: Parent-child Reminiscing and Associations with Psychopathology

Alixandra Risi
Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical Psychology)
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for Parents with Complex Mental Health Difficulties

Cheryl Jialing Ho
Doctor of Philosophy
The development of cognitive abilities and interaction during infancy


It all counts: Talking about numeracy at home

By the time children begin formal schooling, there are already considerable individual differences in early literacy and numeracy skills. A child who is behind when school begins struggles to catch up. We are studying the ways in which parents and carers talk about numeracy in the home with very young children. The aim of this research is to better understand the range of ways parents/carers and children can or might talk about concepts like counting, size and shape comparisons, distance, time, and patterns, during play, book-reading, and everyday activities in the home. This research will inform the development of an intervention for families who need support and guidance as their children develop numeracy knowledge and confidence. 

Parent-child Interactions

Parent-child interactions provide the primary social learning context for children. Our research brings together clinical and developmental staff and research methods to better understand the ways in which parental mental health and wellbeing is associated with the way parents play and talk with their children. Our research aims to understand and adapt existing evidence-based interventions, such as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, to better meet the needs of high-risk families, and to foster parent-child attachment bonds.