A baby’s first words have got to be up there with one of the most thrilling parts of parenthood. Typically, those really frontal sounds like the M, D and B are the first to pop out, and it no surprise that ‘Mama’, ‘Dada’ and ‘Baba’ are the headline act. However, while speech is a natural development, the process doesn’t just happen on its own. Studies have shown that babies are constantly learning from what you say and the way to help baby to talk has a lot to do with your input . Of course, you might feel silly babbling away to someone who can’t respond, and it’s not always easy to come up with new ways to stimulate your baby’s speech development. To get the facts, we sat down with Sima Hall, speech-language therapist at KidsFirst Medical Centre to get her top tips on how to get your baby talking.
Help baby to talk tip #1: It’s never to early to start
“The first communication between mother and baby starts in the womb and once baby is born this continues, often during feeding times when baby will start to make sounds and eye contact. At this point it’s important to talk to baby as much as possible. You might feel a little bit silly doing this, but don’t, because when baby hears your voice his/her brain starts to understand language. Ultimately, these are the building blocks of language development and baby is absorbing more than you realise.”
Help baby to talk tip #2: Watch out for their reactions
“When you talk to your baby it doesn’t need to be as regimented as, ‘Now let’s sit down and practice talking’. Instead, you can just talk about everyday stuff. For example, saying things like, ‘mummy is hanging out the washing,’ ‘mummy is picking up the toys,’ ‘look at the green frog’ and ‘look at the red car’ are all good. However, if you notice something has caught baby’s attention, it’s important to respond to that. If he/she is interested in the light switch you could say, ‘on-off, on-off’ and point to the light as it goes on and off. If you do that several times a day your baby is going to learn the concept of ‘on’ and ‘off’ quite quickly.”
Help baby to talk tip #3: Read stories
“During the early months, reading isn’t so much about the story, it’s more about the experience. It’s a chance for you to bond with baby and encourage word play at the same time. Touch-and-feel books are very effective because the language is simple and you can reinforce what you’re saying with texture. Also consider reading your child short stories with simple phrases and sentences. The main idea here is for your baby to listen to the rhythm and rhyme of language. Many suitable books are widely available.”
Help baby to talk tip #4: Take turns talking
“It’s very important to allow baby to respond. It might just be a grunt, eye contact, or a laugh, but taking time to pause allows baby to reply to you. That idea of turn taking starts very early on when you are feeding your baby. You might say something and baby will look at you and grin or make a sound. It might seem small, but this is actually the beginning of baby’s communication development.”
Help baby to talk tip #5: Don’t rely on TV
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under the age of two . The reason for this is that studies have shown that excessive amounts of television can alter how the brain develops. The other big issue is that the television doesn’t answer back, so baby isn’t practicing those vital communication skills like eye contact and turn taking. Of course, there is a difference between putting baby in front of the television while you do other things – essentially using the television as a sort of babysitter – and sitting and watching a programme together, where you are talking to baby about what is happening onscreen.”
Sima Hall is a Speech-Language Therapist at KidsFIRST Medical Centre. She is currently running a communication group for parents and their babies aged 0-9 months. For more information please contact KidsFIRST on 04 348 5437.