Baby Talk?

What can I do to improve my baby’s future?  As a teacher I see moms struggle with this question all the time.  Mothers often feel conflicted as they juggle a variety of obligations: family life, work, community responsibilities.  Our dreams for our children are often coupled with concerns that other commitments may interfere with our time with our children.  We question if this will have an adverse effect.

Partly playing on those concerns, fads abound in the area of early childhood development.  From the use of baby sign to using flashcards to promote earlier reading or math skills, there are many ideas of what you might do now to ensure your child’s academic success in the future.   However, few, if any of them, have research that shows they have a consistent, long-term impact on children’s achievement.  In fact, recent research has shown that even preschool programs, the recent and best hope especially for children from low socio-economic backgrounds, have minimal impact on children’s long-term academic achievement.

But there is one significant piece of great news in recent research reviewed by Dana Suskind, M.D. in her book, “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.”  With little doubt, the best thing we can do for our children’s development is something we can all do easily.  TALK.  That’s it – just talk.  To your baby.  As your baby begins to babble, babble back at him.  That’s right – baby talk in a turn-taking conversation.  As your child uses her first words, expand on them.  When your baby says, “Da,” you say, “Oh, you’re looking for Daddy?  Where is Daddy? I think he’s in the garage!  Let’s go see!”  If your child is looking at the snow, talk about snowflakes and snowmen and snowballs.  Pay attention to what your child says and what he likes and turn it into a conversation, gradually expanding your baby’s vocabulary words and the complexity of his language. 

Dr. Suskind suggests thinking of the “Three Ts.”  First, “Tune In,” as in pay attention to your child’s interests and attempts to communicate.  Next, “Talk More,” as in don’t just ask closed-ended questions and give directions.  Talk about why you are doing things, what you like, how you feel.  Describe and narrate your child’s world.  Finally, “Take Turns” means giving your child a chance to be part of the conversation.  Use her comments as a jumping off point to continue the conversation further.  These same techniques are used at St. Joseph Institute for children who have a hearing loss, but the research shows they have a lasting impact on the language and learning of all children.  

What about reading?  We have always heard that reading is important, right?  Of course it is – but it may be as much about using reading as a focus for starting and extending conversations about the pictures, the story, and the characters as it is about recognizing written words.  What about building attention and organization?  They are also built around those interactions, as you talk with your child about how you attend to and organize your world.  Having a conversation about how you put the ice cream last on your shopping list so you can pay for it and get home before it melts is a great way to help your child think about ordering her world.  And won’t that come in handy when she has to manage college applications!

May is National Speech and Hearing Month – enjoy talking with your children.

Teri Ouellette, MS Ed, LSLS Cert AVEd
St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf

Suskind, D. (2015).  Thirty million words: Building a child’s brain. New York:Dutton.