An article on Huffington Post's website, "The Power of Talking to Your Baby," drew much attention last week. Which surprised me, because I thought it was something many of us already knew. Not so.
In brief, talking to your baby is necessary and good. It helps her develop language skills and knowledge from birth to 3 before she's even talking herself.
Research tells us that babies who come from homes where parents engage them and speak to them regularly often have a higher IQ than those who come from less verbal, less educated families. What does that mean, exactly? Well, we all give our little ones directives: “Don’t touch that!” “Be careful!” “Time to eat.” And in some families, that's where the conversation ends.
In homes where parents actively engage their children, that conversation continues as part of a constant exchange between mom/dad and their baby. As we wrote in our story, "Why Talking to Your Baby Is Best,"
“Vocabulary and comprehension skills are a key aspect of school readiness, but their development begins in infancy. Long before babies understand the meanings of words, verbal stimulation is important for early language skills.”
But talking to your child can be difficult if it doesn’t come naturally for you. Start by doing simple things: Look out the window and name the objects that you see; describe what you are doing as you dress your baby (name her body parts, the color of the clothing, let her touch the fabric and describe whether it's soft or rough); talk about food while you're in the kitchen and describe what you're doing as you prepare a meal.
Keep your sentences short and simple. "Who is that baby in the mirror? Are those your eyes? Look at baby's fingers. Let's count: One, two, three. Uh-oh, I hear the dog barking. Why is he barking? Let's go look and see."
When you take your tot out for a walk, pick up a leaf or flower and let him explore it with his hands; talk about the shapes and colors of the cars that drive by, point out the sound of chirping of birds, and barking dogs. I found visits to Easy Way (when my son was awake and I wasn't rushed) to be a good place to explore shapes, colors, even my son's sense of smell and touch.
Yes, it can feel funny talking out loud when no one answers. But your baby is listening. And he will respond with cooing or facial expressions that tell you he's listening. He is absorbing everything that's going on around him. Over time, this stimulation — and those millions of words — will help shape your child's knowledge of the world. More importantly, it will help forever shape his power to learn.