Language development, one of life’s most important areas of behavior, is significantly influenced by the way you raise your baby in the very first years.
Parents can greatly influence much of their child’s language development. But in what ways can you as a parent make a difference in the way in which language develops in your child? Isn’t talking just a natural thing for a child?
Certainly it is true that children will learn to talk no matter what the parents do; however, parents can make a difference in how quickly and how well a child learns.
Language development begins early. In fact, it begins immediately after your child is born. By the end of the first month, infants can recognize familiar voices and can even distinguish between the sounds adults make. This emphasizes the importance of talking to your newborn baby. Even though your baby may not understand or verbally respond to you, by talking to him, you are teaching him to talk.
When he is very young, it is important that you talk with your face close to his face (12-15 inches) so that he can see you even when his eyesight is not yet well developed. Babies have a strong interest in human faces. For this reason, talking a lot while being close to him is all part of stimulating him to talk.
“Cooing” behavior of a baby is one of the important phases of learning to talk. It is important to respond to your baby’s cooing. All babies, even babies who are hearing-impaired, coo sometime around the end of the second month.
When you respond to these sounds, you are teaching him that his vocalizations have an effect on those around him. This motivates him to learn to talk; it also teaches him that he has some control of the world around him.
The best way to encourage his cooing is to let him see your face and respond to him in ways to keep him involved—be silly coo like he does, baby talk, or talk in a high-pitched sound to keep him interested. It isn’t important at this stage to only use adult speech. It is important to let him know you like what he is doing.
Babies who receive attention for cooing, coo more frequently than those who do not. You are influencing his willingness to practice talking.
Chat with him when you are making his dinner. Tell him what you are doing when you are folding the clothes. Let him know that you love him by telling him you do. Read stores to him and point out the creatures that are in them.
When you talk with your child, he learns that this is an important skill he needs to learn. He loves the attention and wants it to continue. He will soon be likely to respond to the words you are saying to him.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. For more information, email to email@example.com or call 360-681-2250.