Language and speech development is an early milestone that is vital for all infants to reach in order to promote healthy progression into childhood and to encourage school readiness.
The words and sounds that they hear, things that they see and experience, and positive interactions with parents all contribute to how rapidly language and speech development will occur for young children.
To promote optimal outcomes—proper diction, robust vocabulary, and the ability to clearly articulate what they want and need—it is important for
parents to create a rich language environment for their child.
It is critical for a child to learn how to use her words to communicate feelings, emotions, and desires instead of relying on the instinct to cry and whine for attention and affection.
The effects of talking with your infant are far-reaching.
According to The Urban Child Institute, babies and toddlers need to hear a lot of words and a wide variety of them to help shape their understanding of the world around them. And the amount and type of words that a child hears are also driving factors for healthy language development and use.
A study conducted by Betty Hart, Ph.D. and Todd Risly, Ph.D. from the University of Kansas on the effects of talking to children on their eventual academic achievement shows a direct link to the amount of words spoken in the home from birth to age three. The study suggests that young children need to hear 30,000 words in the first three years of life to achieve optimal academic success by the third grade and to keep up with their peers.
There are several ways that parents can work to cultivate language and speech development, starting even before birth. Many parents unknowingly initiate the process for healthy language and speech development to occur when they begin talking to their baby while still in the womb.
It’s never too soon to start communicating with your child.
In fact, research proves that the earlier the better as positive interactions – both verbal and non-verbal - during early childhood have a huge impact on a child’s overall social and emotional well-being.
To promote healthy language development and use, here are a few simple action steps that parents can take.
Explain your activities – as you are caring for your baby, and talk to them about what you are doing. For instance, during routine feedings, diaper changes, or bath time describe the process by using words to narrate what is happening.
Listen and respond – when your baby signals a need for care (initially by crying), respond attentively with words like: “what’s the matter with my baby?” or “mommy’s coming sweetheart”. This allows baby to feel nurtured and loved and helps to shape her own understanding of how words are used to address and meet daily needs.
Encourage interaction and feedback – ask your baby questions about what she is doing, seeing, and/or how she is feeling at any given moment. Research shows that asking questions and using more complex language promotes the size and growth of children’s vocabulary. It also nurtures their own inquisitive instinct, which allows room for early exploration and discovery.
Read to your child – simply talking to your child can and should be supplemented with frequent reading. There is real power in the ritual of reading a bedtime story, beyond utilizing it to help your child fall asleep. The Urban Child Institute has determined that even in a baby’s first year, shared book reading promotes subsequent language abilities. Reading to your child also gives her a heads up with developing reading comprehension and literacy skills.
Touch and agree – use objects found in and around the home to promote early learning. Point to something such as a toy, blanket, or food item and tell your child what it is. As early language development begins to occur, encourage your child to repeat what she heard you say, and do the same for her once she is able to verbally identify and acknowledge objects on her own.
Recognize that every word matters –remain mindful and cautious about the type of words and language that you choose to use around your baby. Remember that the use of harsh commands, negative statements, and swear words can actually hinder language development in young children.
Consistent communication and positive verbal interactions promote optimal brain development in early childhood.
In the first three years of life babies’ brains are like sponges, soaking up everything within their environment to establish a mental foundation for future learning.
As a child matures beyond infancy and approaches preschool, the amount of ‘talking’ she engaged in from birth will have a significant impact on future academic achievement and overall success in life.
So parents should not be concerned if your child becomes a ‘Chatty Cathy.’ Remember that her talkative and inquisitive nature will serve her well in the long run.