From the time your child is born, they are communicating with you to meet their needs. Babies cry as a way to communicate with their parent. Your child is paying attention to their surroundings and is listening to all the new sounds.
According to Touchpoints: Birth to Three (see resources list below), a baby can recognize their primary caregiver’s voice as early as seven days old. A baby shows interest in their secondary caregiver’s voice by two weeks of age. By 3 months of age a baby starts to make cooing noises, smiles, and has different cries for different situations. By 6 months of age your child is making a variety of sounds. At a year your child is starting to form distinct words that continues to grow as they get older.
How can a parent help their child in communicating and what can they do to help build their child’s verbal skills?
- Talk to your baby while you are changing their diaper, feeding them, and in any daily activity of your day. Explain what you are doing, and what you are seeing. Describe things by your senses (how it smells, looks, feels, and sounds).
- In the first 4 months use “parentese”, also known as “motherese.” According to Touchpoints: Birth to Three, (parentese) is the tone of voice that is used with a baby “that is soft, gentle, (and) high-pitched baby talk” that alerts the baby to pay attention to you. Parentese is a way to start teaching your child how to communicate with someone. It helps your child hear the sounds in words more clearly, which helps build their vocabulary. An important note, according to Tenille Bonoguore in an article from Today’s Parent, there are still questions about if you should use invented words such as boopsy, wittle, etc. Researches are unsure if that hinders a child from learning to talk correctly.
- When you child begins to talk and use words, don’t feel the need to correct them when they don’t say the word correctly. If your child isn’t clear or is pointing to what they want, just model the words and repeat what they are trying to say.
- For example, your child may point to a cookie, and you can say, “Oh, you want a cookie?”
- If you are in a bilingual home, feel free to communicate with your child in both languages. It is best for your child to learn both languages from an early age, and it will not hinder your child from learning how to talk in the predominant language.
- Ask questions. Asking questions help children build their critical thinking skills and allows them to look at things from a variety of viewpoints.
- While playing with your child, talk about what you are doing. This is a great opportunity to ask questions.
- When asking your child to do something, it is important to stick to “one-step requests.”
- For example, “Take your shoes to Daddy,” is asking your child to focus on one task and not multiple steps. Children at this age have a harder time understanding and remembering tasks that have multiple steps.
- Introduce and use sign language with your child. Sign language helps break down barriers created when your child is not able to talk yet. It helps decrease frustrations for both the parent and child. You can start using sign language as early as 8 months of age. It is important to say the word as you use the sign so your child hears the words. Sign language just adds a connection to learning the word.
- To learn a few signs go to HandSpeak.com. You may also want to check out a book or DVD listed below.
- Continue to ask questions, focusing on open-ended questions (questions that require more than a yes or no). While playing with your child ask questions that get your child to really think.
- An example would be asking your child: “If you were really making a grocery list, what would you write down on that list? Why do you think those items are important to be on your list?” This gives you an opportunity to write a list down together.
- Role play. Pretend to have a restaurant and your child is the waiter/waitress. Have them take your order and bring you your meal. Pick a job that your child would like to do, and act it out.
- Do experiments with your child. Experiments get your child to really think about things and explain how they work.
- An example would be when experimenting with floating objects, “The ball is light, while the rock is heavy. What happened to the light objects? What do you think is going to happen to this rock?” Use descriptive language to make observations and predictions.
- Talk about what your child is interested in. When you include their interests, they are more willing to talk about it and retain it.
Recommended books and DVDs:
-Gabby, Children's Team, Joel D. Valdez Main Library
- Brazelton, T. (2006). Touchpoints Birth to Three: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.
- Hubler, L. & Hubler, M. (2015). Fostering Communication With Young Children: Signing Fundamentals. Time to Sign, Inc.
- Communicating with Baby: Tips and Milestones from Birth to Age 5 by Adena Dacy, MS, CCC-SLP
- Baby talk: Bad for your toddler's language development? by Tenille Bonoguore
- The Best Time To Introduce Your Baby to a Foreign Language by Angelica Lai
- Using Questions to Support Your Child’s Learning by Claire Lerner and Rebecca Parlakian
- Conversations with Children! Asking Questions That Stretch Children’s Thinking by Janis Strasser
- Baby sign language: An evidence-based guide by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.
- Enhancing Children's Language Development in Preschool Classrooms (PDF)
Read, Write, Talk, Sing, Play!
The day children are born, their brains are primed for language. Talking with your child about anything and everything helps them build oral language skills, which are critical to early literacy!
Read more about early literacy and how you can make a difference in your child's life.