Baby Talk: How To Talk To Your Baby
Babies learn to speak by listening and mimicking what we say. Experts say that by about 10 months old (or sooner) babies will begin to recognize common words. By this time, they’ve been “babbling” multiple syllables for several months, and may start putting a few words (“mama,” “dada”) into context.
Communicating with your baby from birth helps positively reinforce their identities as little individuals, separate from you. For instance, responding to a baby’s cries lets her know her needs will be met, that someone is paying attention. Likewise, when you respond to a baby’s coos and gurgles with interested expressions or by repeating what she is saying, you are telling the baby her words matter – you are interested in what she has to say.
I provide a running commentary whenever I’m out with my daughter – and I have done this since she was born. In the grocery store, I recite my list to her, point out products that catch her attention and tell her their names, or just talk about things we will do in the future. At home, I fold laundry in front of her watchful gaze, pointing out the colors and the objects. Then there are songs and games: The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, and Old MacDonald, for instance. It turns out, just by trusting my instincts, I figured out many of the right things to say to a baby.
Follow these tips to engage your infant in conversation:
Be animated. Make your eyes wide and use animated facial expressions to catch a baby’s attention – the more exaggerated the better to engage a very young baby.
Use simple phrases. When you talk to your baby, use short words and simple phrases. Refer to yourself as “Mommy” (or “Daddy” as the case may be) and use your baby’s name frequently, too. As babies get older, they listen for their name to recognize the beginning or end of a sentence.
Remember to speak slowly and clearly. If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you know how hard it is to understand native speakers if you are just beginning to learn the tongue. To a baby, every language is new. Speak slowly and clearly so baby can discover patterns in your words.
Repeat baby’s first words. Or first attempts at forming words. Baby’s learn language best when you speak clearly to them, but you can also repeat their “babble.” If your baby says, “Ga, ga,” repeat “ga, ga,” back to him. After repeating his syllables a few times, switch it up. If he’s been saying, “da, da, da,” say, “da, da” (only two times) back. Your baby will soon catch on and start mimicking you.
Teach conversational patterns. When your baby babbles to you, treat it as if you would a regular conversation. Say, “Is that so?” Let your baby respond. Provide positive reinforcement by saying, “What an exciting story you’re telling me!”
Similarly, when you are talking to your baby, make sure to leave time for a response. In this way, babies learn the give and take and different intonations of a conversation.
Use words and gestures to connect concepts. From birth onward, you can show baby an object and tell them the word for that object. Games like my laundry game, where I point out different pieces of clothing and their colors as I put them away, can be played anywhere.
Show your baby toys or stuffed animals and say their names. You can take, for instance, a stuffed dog, and say, “This is a dog. Dogs go ‘woof, woof.'” Then rub the animal against your baby’s cheek and say, “The dog’s fur is soft.”
Bath time is a great time to point out body parts as you wash them. As your infant gets older, (around 8 months) you can ask her to point to her nose, foot or elbow, for instance. Don’t worry if she doesn’t get it right away.
Your words make an impact. Most importantly, remember that even before your baby truly grasps the full meaning of your words, those words make an impact.
Don’t criticize an infant or toddler, and avoid threatening a baby with negative consequences. It may be tempting to explain to a finicky eight-month-old that: “If you don’t eat your spinach, you won’t grow up big and strong,” but negative phrases have been shown by child-rearing experts to hurt, rather than help, development.
Avoid, at all costs, telling a baby they “can’t” do something. Whenever you talk to your newborn, infant or toddler, provide positive reinforcement delivered in upbeat tones. Not only will it help teach your baby how to speak, it will pave the way to a lifetime of confidence for your little one.