Communicating with our babies and toddlers is absolutely essential for their healthy cognitive development. It also positions them for easier progress when they eventually start school or a day care centre.
The question is though, how to talk to babies and toddlers?
Ignore the “how to talk to babies and toddlers” myths
Speaking to your children should be a natural instinct. It’s about how you communicate your love, values and cultural heritage all while helping their development.
However, from our grandparents and their predecessors, have come certain ‘wisdoms’ about how to talk to babies and toddlers – wisdoms we now know to be badly flawed.
So, it’s well worth ignoring all of the following folklore:
- “if you talk too much to your babies, you’ll turn them into chatterboxes”;
- “don’t worry about talking to your baby, children’s speaking abilities develop independently of adults”;
- “never use ‘babyspeak’ words – it will stunt your child’s speech development”;
- “babies can’t understand what adults are saying”.
All of these are totally or largely incorrect.
When to speak to your children
This is easy – as frequently as possible.
You just cannot speak to them too much but do remember to listen as well. Give them the chance to respond even if initially, they’re just making ‘goo’ type noises.
Pretend to be interested and amused by what they’re saying or trying to say. They’ll learn vast amounts from this interaction about how to communicate and its importance.
There is now a mountain of evidence to show that children with parents who speak constantly to them, tend to develop better articulatory skills and at an earlier age, than those with parents who communicate much less. It is also now clear that children with better language skills tend to do better in school as well.
The only time you should be a little more reserved is if your child is showing signs of being tired and grumpy. Like all of us, they probably won’t respond well to chatter in such circumstances, so should be left alone for a little nap!
Most babies develop their speech by going through various developmental stages.
For most, there will be a phase where they’ll use baby-speak, often using recognisable words and abstract sounds interchangeably. Sometimes they’ll make their own word up for something where they haven’t heard your word for it, for example calling a frying pan a “gip gip”.
Don’t worry about this at all – it is perfectly normal and often delightful. Smile and talk to them about the “gip gip” and seamlessly start calling it a frying pan. They’ll catch on very quickly.
Never mock your child or ridicule them for making errors with their words. Gently correct them and be patient.
Psychologists are split on the subject of common baby lexicons, such as calling a cow a “moo-moo”.Many argue the word children should be taught is “cow” because it’s easy to say and there is no value to teaching “moo-moo”. Each parent needs to form their own view on this one but try to be consistent, as children can be confused if parents use different names for the same thing.
This is another easy one – you can speak to your child about anything!
They’ll be fascinated come what may. Even so, try to talk about things they’re likely to find interesting and can easily see in their immediate surroundings rather than abstract concepts.
Young children best assimilate new words when they’re accompanied by pictures, so do keep in mind the importance of books and talking about the book and its pictures rather than just reading the story.
Above all – enjoy speaking with your baby/toddler!