Many mums feel embarrassed talking to their tiny baby, but chatting to your tot from day one is vital for building communication skills
You probably started talking to your baby when he was just a bump. But now he’s here, it seems a little silly to attempt a full-on conversation. Surely a few gurgles and giggles will do? Well, new research from the National Literacy Trust says otherwise. “From seven months of pregnancy onwards, your baby recognises your voice, so continuing after the birth is very important,” says Dr Cathy Hamer, an educational psychologist from the National Literacy Trust (www.literacytrust.org.uk).
Once he’s born, your baby can even recognise different languages and pick up on the variations in different accents from just a couple of days old. “Talk to your baby as often as possible as the first three years of his life are crucial to his developing communication skills,” advises Cathy.
A quick catch-up after your busy day is a perfect way to hone those talking skills. Your baby will love a chat about your time together. “Reflecting on the day’s activities, such as what toy he’s played with or a visit to the shops is important for familiarity. He remembers things by recapping on what he’s done,” explains Cathy.
“Many parents feel silly talking to their babies, as they don’t talk back. However, babies do respond with facial expressions, movements and gestures. The key is giving him the chance to respond to your voice. Think of the letters T, L, R – talk, listen and respond. That’s how you’ll encourage his speech and language skills from an early age. Talking to your baby’s like having a conversation with an adult, it’s about give and take,” says Cathy.
Chats with your little one can be short and sweet. “Start with little sentences and key words. Using a silly voice when talking to your little one is OK, but it’s better to talk to your baby in your usual tone,” Cathy explains. “Saying your baby’s name regularly while you’re talking is the quickest way for your tot to learn his name.”
You should try to repeat words or short sentences as often as possible with your little one. Repetition’s key to your tot learning and developing his own language skills.
Make sure you give your little one a chance to respond (even if it’s just with a dribble). “We’ve found in our research that many parents think their baby doesn’t understand them, which just isn’t the case,” says Cathy.The way you say things to your little one will determine his reaction, so it’s all about your voice, tone and facial expressions. “Start with facial movements, then move on to short sentences. Babies want to know what you’re doing no matter how dull it seems, even down to how you’re going to change his nappy.”
Babies need time to respond to you, by pointing, gesturing or using facial movements. “Your little one wants to communicate with you all the time, so you need to give him the chance to reply,” says Cathy.
Hands waving, toys as props – you can try all sorts to grab his attention along with your words. “Try looking at what you’re doing when you’re talking to your baby. He’ll respond to your words and movements if you’re patient,” says Cathy.
Bath time’s usually a relaxing time for you and for your little one, and a good chance to start chatting. “When you’re bathing your baby, start naming different body parts, and his toys. Also the more you repeat words, the quicker he’ll learn to talk,” says Cathy.
You may be able to natter all day long with your friends, but listening’s just as important to develop your little one’s communication skills. “Talk with your tot and not at him. By talking, listening and waiting for him to react, it’ll be more rewarding for you and for your baby,” says Cathy. “Become an active listener and pay attention to how your baby absorbs your words, eye contact, body movements and facial expressions. These are the most important things to remember when you’re talking to your baby.”
“Babies are familiar with their mum’s voice during pregnancy and after the birth,” says Cathy. But he also needs to learn about other family member’s voices. “Most babies will have several important people in their life, so telling him your name is a good way for him to associate a different person with a different voice.”
“If your baby’s upset use a softer tone when talking to him. Tapping into your little one’s emotions is key to responding well to his mood.If you get stressed and raise your voice you’ll only aggravate the situation,” says Cathy.
You may not warble like a nightingale, but babies love a sing-a-long and the repetition in nursery rhymes is great for their language. “Singing lullabies is also a way to calm your child, especially if you use the same one regularly,” says Cathy. Associating songs with particular activities, like bedtime, can help your baby get into a routine.
“The key time to help your baby’s speech is when you get him up in the morning. Start talking about what outfit he’s wearing and what he’s doing that day,” suggests Cathy. “When he’s going to bed, tell him what story you’re going to read him and tell him why it’s time to go to sleep.”
“At meal times talk to your baby about what he’s eating, pointing out the different colours and textures,” advises Cathy. “At bath time, talk about how the water feels and tell him the parts of the body as you wash him.”
“Babies need consistency to develop speech and language skills,” says Cathy. So if you get into the habit of chatting to your tot all day, every day, your little one will find it easier to move on to the next exciting stage of chatting with you.
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