Parents can learn a lot about kids by following the example of this award-winning professor

Published: December 08, 2014
Updated: December 09, 2014
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Parents often find that no matter how much they prepare beforehand or think they know about children, they can learn more from simply watching and living the experience. That bit of advice to parents is based on research by Brian Vaughn, an award-winning Auburn University authority on children and peer-relationships.

Throughout the past decade, Vaughn, a professor of human development and family studies in Auburn's College of Human Sciences, has conducted research on peer relationships at Auburn's Harris Early Learning Center in Birmingham.

"I study how children learn to love in their families and how they learn to use the character that's developed within the context of those early family relationships to accomplish the kinds of goals that they set for themselves as they move out of the family and into social groups," Vaughn said.

Vaughn is an authority in child development with special emphasis on the social/emotional development of infants and young children. His published research has made important contributions for understanding the development and consequences of social attachments between children and their major caregivers. He has also contributed to the literature of social competence and peer relationships in early childhood.

"Unless you understand how trajectories unfold for the average case, you're never going to understand the pathway that leads to deviance or problems," Vaughn said. "If I'm successful in that, then it will be possible to put the atypical in context. I find that uncovering the mystery rather than changing the ways that trajectories move along motivates many people in science."

Vaughn has discovered that children who enjoy interacting with other children become more socially skilled and socially competent. Most recently, his research has expanded to include the roles that sleep may play in a child's cognitive and social/emotional development and adaptive functioning for preschool children. He has found that children who receive more sleep tend to develop higher quality social relationships and a larger vocabulary.

Vaughn is a recipient of the Creative Research and Scholarship Award, which was presented to him at the ninth annual Auburn University Faculty Awards ceremony in October. The award recognizes and encourages the individual efforts of Auburn faculty who honor the practice of mentoring undergraduate research and scholarship, and it is meant to highlight significant commitment to undergraduate scholarship and creative work outside the classroom.

Vaughn credits his career success to a personal drive to solve questions. "I'm curious about puzzles and mysteries, and to me the interesting and exciting part about science is finding the solution to a puzzle or demystifying something that people don't really know about," he said.

"When I was invited to come to Auburn, the most impressive thing I noticed was the degree of collegiality and support presence in my department and the College of Human Sciences," said Vaughn, who has been at Auburn since December 1988. "I thought, 'Yes. This is a place I could complete my career.'"

As a father, Vaughn's advice for child rearing is "that not everything you learned in textbooks applies to you. Your family situation and your child is going to be unique, and many of the things that are given as advice don't apply."

Vaughn said he finds satisfaction in seeing students complete their programs, especially on a graduate level of instruction.

"Watching students who didn't think they were ready or belonged walk across the stage at graduation gives me a thrill," he said. "I really do like that. I am happy to talk to any student who really wants to learn about human development at almost any time."

"I know that I will never stop being curious and never stop finding out things I didn't already know," Vaughn said. "I've been very fortunate to find interesting things several times. Staying curious and never thinking that you know all you need to know about some phenomenon, I think is the key to creativity."

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