The phrase “baby talk” has negative connotations, suggesting that when we engage with babies who have not yet learned to talk, we sound silly. Some people even suggest that we are talking to babies more for ourselves than for them, since babies can’t get anything out of baby talk anyway. Would it surprise you to find out that this idea is wrong? Research has shown that baby talk, or “baby conversation” as we’ll call it, is essential for child development. A prominent study found that babies who grow up with chatty parents wound up with higher scores on reading and writing tests. Here are some tips for baby conversation.
Go Ahead and Be Goofy.
I know you feel self-conscious and dorky modulating your voice with sing-song words, a squeaky voice and different tones and styles. That’s okay though, since baby really likes it! Babies are learning to pick up on new sounds and pronunciations long before they ever attempt to say “dada” or “mama.” It’s easier for them to hear all of the variations of human communication when you are exaggerating your voice. So go ahead and be silly!
Stoke Your Child’s Curiosity
To babies and toddlers the entire world is one amazing, stimulating toy. Everything is new and even the smallest thing captures their attention. Take advantage of your child’s curious nature by indulging the child’s interest. If he’s excitedly looking at the cat, babble about the kitty’s softness and color and personality. If he’s mesmerized by the ceiling fan, have a conversation about the fan and let him look at it all he wants. These conversations will build the associations between objects and words, making important connections in the brain.
Talk With Your Whole Body
If you’ve ever wondered why your child is so in love with Uncle Pat and his crazy antics, it’s probably because the crazy uncle is using his whole body to gesture. This is more than just funny to a child, it’s also helping the child understand the meanings of words, expressions and emotions. The same principle is at stake whenever someone learns a new language. Many non-native English speakers report learning English from watching soap operas. Why? Because the actors talk with their hands, exaggerate their speech and facial expressions, and the musical cues help emphasize the action. When you talk with your hands or used exaggerated facial expressions, it helps a child learn what words mean and how to read other people.
Don’t Dumb It Down
Don’t dumb down your speech because kids are little and can’t talk yet. There are no words that are “too big” for a child to learn. A child’s brain is a giant, powerful sponge. The more advanced vocabulary you expose them to, the more they will learn and grow.
Imagine the Past, Future and Far Away Worlds
As children get older, you can introduce the concepts of past and future with them even if they are not quite old enough to articulate the difference. It’s good to narrate what you are doing with your child, i.e. “let’s get your hat and shoes on to go to grandmas.” But it’s also important to remember to stoke your child’s memory and imagination. Stretch their little minds by discussing things that happened “yesterday,” things that we will be doing “in a week” and by discussing imaginary worlds. You might be surprised by what your child comes up with.