Note: This blog is available as an audio @ Talking. Babies need Conversations.

We talk with babies all the time, and everyone knows that it’s important. So why am I talking about this? Simply because not all talk is equal and there are easy ways to make the most out of your first conversations together.

I also want to bring awareness to something that is less known but absolutely worth knowing: Science tells us that how and how much parents talk and engage with their infants and toddlers in the first three years shapes children’s future lives. I’m not talking about kindergarten – no, I’m talking about the school years and later. That’s a fact, and that’s why your conversations and how you engage and talk with babies matters.

My Tip: Have conversations with your baby – don’t just talk, tune in and respond. She wants to be noticed, heard and seen.
Remember: It’s your listening and responding back that makes your baby feel acknowledged, noticed and important.

Some Easy Tips

1. Start talking right away. Talking = Connecting = Building Knowledge

Babies love voices of people, especially those of people familiar to them. When you talk with your baby, you give her something familiar and that helps to connect and bond. Plus, by hearing words she gets lots to learn and build knowledge: Where does the voice come from, what does it sound like, does mom’s voice sound different than dad’s, what does Hi there mean…

2. Don’t ‘just’ talk – have conversations: Talk, stop, tune in and then respond back.

The advice to parents often is ‘talk, talk, talk’. Yes, while talking a lot is important, talking with your baby is not a one way street. It’s a back and forth dance between you and your baby where you deliberately give the baby time and space in the conversation so she can chime in.
Talk, pause for a few seconds and watch what your baby does, then comment on that.

Responding back and commenting on something the baby did –her curled up fist, her leg kicks, her funny sound – is as important as talking. It sends your baby an important message: I noticed you, I’m here for you, and I want to connect with you. The baby feels noticed and builds trust. By having this back & forth dance you model turn-talking and get the baby to vocalize more.

3. Get face to face and make eye contact.

Babies carefully watch you and connect more easily when someone looks at them while talking with them. Presumably they take this to mean ‘oh she’s looking at me, she wants to connect with me’.. At first, the baby’s eye contact is very fleeting and she seems to be looking by rather than at you. That changes very soon and she’ll be fixated on your eyes. (Note: If eye contact is not common in your culture, than this would not be appropriate).

4. Talk ‘happy speech’, baby talk or parentese.

What’s this style? This is when you go up several octaves higher and you stretch out sound and words and above all, you sound very happy and affectionate. This talking style captures the baby’s attention more easily than normal talk does. You can connect more easily and longer. Also your face lights up when you talk this way and makes you even more interesting. Baby talk or parentese helps babies to connect and learn to understand and talk. A neutral ‘Hi there George’ turns into Hiiii theeere GEORGE.

5. Go beyond your ‘usual’ talk and vary how you talk:

Talk higher or lower, whisper, sing about something you do or your child does. Babies love familiar things but also need variation and new things to learn.

6. What to talk about? Anything is great, really.

Talk about things your baby does or looks at, or something that you do. Giving a running documentary from early on about what happens sets you up for becoming a sports broadcaster – something that is important in a few months when your baby is learning to understand.

7. Start reading aloud in the first few months.

Early on, reading is about connecting with your child and making book reading together a fun and bonding experience. Read in parentese style and just as if you’re having a conversation. Include your baby in what you read aloud.

8. Use your child’s name as you talk with him.

He needs to hear his name over and over before he’ll recognize it and realize ‘oh – Sasha – that’s actually me.’

What draws your baby into a conversation? A funny sound? A smile?

How does she react when you switch from your normal talk to happy speech?

Are your back and forth conversations growing? How many turns are there?

I’d love to hear from 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