Updated: May 25, 2020
Twice in the past week, I’ve read little blurbs in the news about the value of talking to your baby extensively, and in the same way you would speak to an adult. Both instances cited a recent study which claims that little ones’ cognitive ability is improved by this practice. Well, my first response is, “No kidding! Who doesn’t know this!?” But apparently lots of people don’t.
I think people assume that because babies don’t talk, they must just be blobs or something. I was told early on in my mothering career to tell my child everything–to tell her the things I love, the things I believe in, all about nature–to describe weather and colors and feelings and what’s going to happen today. So I did.
Mind you, I didn’t talk nonstop, I just imagined that my child could understand what I was saying, and spoke to her as if she were . . . well, another human being.
I’m convinced that doing this with each of my five children gave them a good foundation in language: correct pronunciation (which leads to good spelling), good grammar, and a wide vocabulary. This foundation in language helped them later when they learned to read, and gave them a head start on being able to communicate clearly, orally and in writing. This is clearly an advantage in the area of academics from which every child has the potential to benefit. Think of it! Something as simple and straightforward as talking can help a child do better in school! This makes the possibility of improving that child’s education something that is within the grasp of nearly every parent.
But the benefits of this kind of communication don’t stop there. Eye contact with the one speaking increases cognitive development and the ability to pay attention–a prerequisite for any learning. As a child learns to focus, he learns the value of attending to the speaker, and any teacher will tell you that it’s impossible to teach someone who isn’t paying attention to you.
As the child sees in his mother’s eyes the unspoken elements of communication, he learns cues common to the culture in which he lives, and subtleties of language that can’t be attained in other ways. Tone of voice, range of volume, facial expressions and gestures all add to the understanding of language and how it works. This also deepens the bond between caregiver and baby, which in turn deepens the child’s sense of security and confidence, and contributes to the child’s ability to function independently later on.
It’s important to note that, while babies don’t comprehend everything being said, they have a much greater capacity for understanding than we give them credit for. Listening to the variations of vocabulary and tone in his mother’s voice enables a child to quickly gain an understanding of the world around him to a far greater extent than he can by simply overhearing conversations, and definitely more than can be gained by watching a screen.
In fact, one of the main points of the study was to demonstrate the dramatic importance of interactive speech, as opposed to simply watching faces on TV, faces of people who do not and cannot make eye contact with the child, who can’t respond to a child in any way, and to whom a child cannot respond.
Babies are human beings, and they need human interaction. This isn’t new! It’s common sense, and is something that nobody really thought or talked much about in the past. Mothers have always taken the time to talk to their babies, at least before they became obsessed with modern psychological parenting methods, procuring the correct crib toys, playing recordings of Mozart, and using flash cards. Only in our neurotic, hand-wringing modern world do we even consider making a study of the importance of something as basic as communicating with one’s child.
Talk to your baby! He needs to see your mouth move, hear your voice, make eye contact with you. He’ll understand more than you can imagine, learn to be sensitive to nuances in communication, and be ready when the time comes for school. He’ll be able to move into the world more quickly and confidently, thanks to the security and confidence he’s gained through interacting with you and anyone else who takes the time to communicate with this fellow human being! If you’ve been a hand-wringer, or just haven’t known this was important, it’s okay–just start talking!