Giving your child a head start?

Language-rich interactions matter.

Parents want to do the best for their young children. They want them to be healthy, happy, connected and able to develop the skills necessary to do well later on. There are lots of parenting books, parent websites full of advice, and there’s a booming baby industry with new toys and gadgets promising academic success and more. So how can you make a difference and give your child an extra edge early on? The answer may surprise you because it is very simple: It is by having tuned-in, responsive conversations starting from birth.

Science has a clear answer for making those first years count: Help your child build strong language skills in the first two and three years! How and how much parents and other caregivers talk and engage with infants and toddlers matters and shapes their future lives.

Getting ahead and staying ahead with strong language skills early on.

Let’s look at the cascading effects of strong language skills in the infant and toddler years starting more than a decade later with high school graduation: The chance of graduating from high school is related to how well children were reading in 3rd grade; 3rd grade reading level is related to how well these children did in kindergarten; how well they did in kindergarten is related to their vocabulary at the ages of two and three. And how many words children know and say at this young age, – you guessed it – is related to how much talk, how many tuned-in conversations infants and toddlers have had with their parents and caregivers from birth onwards. How quickly toddlers understand everyday words like baby, book, shoe, etc. and how many words they say at age two and three drives many of their cognitive, social and emotional abilities later when in kindergarten and school. That’s an important message for every parent, educator and policy maker, as well. Conversations are the vehicle for your child to learn and build those skills necessary to do well later when in kindergarten and school.

Not much extra time but extra effort is needed.

Talking with young children may not come naturally to everyone. And even if it does, it’s not always easy to have a conversation with a baby who doesn’t talk back in words yet. What matters is to make an effort to go an extra mile and to turn everyday moments such as feeding or meal, bath, diaper changing times, car rides and doctor’s visits into language-rich, responsive interactions. Johnny is likely ahead of Ben when in school because he’s had lots of such responsive conversations and interactions when he was a baby. Of course, there’s other factors that shape children’s learning but we now know more clearly than ever before that strong language skills in the first two and three years are a crucial part of it.

Treating babies like real conversational partners is key.

Tuning in, watching your baby and responding back to what she did or said is as important as talking. As you listen, watch your baby and respond back to her sounds, babbles, leg kicks, smiles, you make her contributions count. She becomes important because you notice her and that builds trust, helps to connect and builds a solid foundation for language, communication and learning in the future.

Conversations with babies are central to their healthy brain development.

Steven Berman, M.D. and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics asked to spread this important news to moms and dads with newborns. In his words, “We need to start by implementing programs in our practices that motivate parents and other caregivers to talk with and encourage their young children’.

Think of your words as important brain food – as necessary as breast milk and other nutritious foods to help your baby develop a strong brain. Avoid word deficiency just like any other deficiency. Let’s start talking, reading, singing and having lots of conversations with babies.

How do you respond back to your baby?

How does your baby communicate with you?

Share your experiences with other parents and young children by submitting pictures, videos or stories on Parent Share.

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Looking for a resource to more closely tune in to your child and foster learning all around as you build a strong foundation together, check out my new book: Raising A Talker: Easy Activities for Birth to Age 3.

Click here to find out more about it and read excerpts.

More information – Gryphon House