Learning how to talk to baby is an essential skill as talking and listening to your baby lays the foundations to a habit of a lifetime.
When you talk and listen to your little one from an early age, you will be establishing a habit that will reap benefits when your children are teenagers (which is when talking is vital).
If you and your children have grown into the habit of sharing feelings and thoughts and generally communicating comfortably with each other from early on, then your older child is more likely to tell you what is going on in their life.
So let's dive into how to talk to your baby!
I have always believed that communication is essential to building a loving and trusting relationship with your child and you can start this from the moment your baby is born and even before.
Of course, there are very important developmental benefits from talking to your baby too, such as language development and emotional development.
Talking and brain development
From birth to 3 years of age your baby's brain will increase to three times its birth size.
Your baby's brain during this time is literally like a sponge, absorbing all that is going on around them both physically and emotionally. What your baby experiences during these all-important years will determine how they form relationships later in life, how well they will do in school and how they bond with you.
During this time they will learn to walk, run, climb, talk, sing, question the world around them and express their feelings to name but a few. They will learn more in these first few years proportionally than they will at any other time in their lives.
Very importantly it has been proven that children starting school whose parents spoke to them often as babies, performed better in reading readiness tests and had larger vocabularies.
Therefore it is vital that as parents we make the most of the early years to communicate and listen so that by the time our little one's go to school we have given them the best opportunity to continue learning and developing in life.
When to start talking
The truth of the matter is that you can start talking to your baby before they are born, as they will start to react to noises outside the womb from around 25 weeks. By chatting away to your bump you will be sowing the seeds of healthy communication with your child and it is certainly beneficial to your baby.
When your baby is born you can start chatting away! From the moment you welcome them into the world your little one will find your face and your voice the most interesting thing in the room. Making eye contact with your baby and smiling is also important, as they will respond better to your voice if you do so. This is love at first sight in its purest form.
How to talk to baby
Some parents fall naturally into talking to their baby while others may struggle or feel self-conscious talking to a baby that can not talk back. However, these early conversations do not have to be in-depth or carefully thought out. Talking to your baby when you are going about everyday tasks such as changing their nappy or preparing a meal is great! Chat to them constantly about what you are doing. When you go for a walk, talk about what you can see and hear, when you go shopping, name the food items you are putting into the trolley. In fact, just keep up a daily dialogue of everything you are doing together. Your little one will absorb it all and hang on your every word, even though as yet they will not be responding in a conversational way. Naturally, it is good to have quiet times too so don't feel you have to talk incessantly or that your chat has to be overly animated. Babies enjoy being talked to a lot and you can mix the day up with more lively conversation & play and then you can also lower the energy by talking softly, singing a lullaby or sitting and looking at a book.
You will soon begin to notice that when you talk to your baby they will start to make sounds back to you. This is the beginning of a conversation. Give them time to form the sounds as you pause in your talking to them and answer once they have made a sound expressing interest in what they are saying. Just make it up as you go along, the fact that you are interacting and paying attention is enough at this point.
Copy the sound your baby makes to you to encourage a two-way conversation and imitate baby vocalisations. Gestures are also an important form of communication for babies, so copy these as well. The way you respond to this early baby talk will teach them the art of conversation later on in life and help develop language skills, so it is very important that you respond in an engaged and enthusiastic fashion. Mirror their facial expressions and smile a lot!
As with most developmental aspects each baby is different so some 1 year old's will already be saying a few words while others may not talk until they are 18 months old and then produce a whole sentence out-of-the-blue.
At 1-3 months your baby will definitely respond with excitement and joy at the sound of your voice. They will respond with gurgling, cooing and vowel sounds from around 2 months of age. During this phase they will already be soothed by music or you reading to them and will respond by waving their arms, kicking their legs and smiling when they recognise simple songs and rhymes.
By 4-7 months become aware of the fact that you respond to their cooing, gurgling and smiling. They will babble, lower and raise the pitch of your voice and wait for your reaction. The more you react the more they will communicate and their babble will begin to mimic the rise and fall of adult conversation.
Between 8-12 months most babies will produce their first proper words such as 'mamma' or 'papa'. We often interpret these words as intentional but in fact, they are usually coincidental as your baby is trying out sounds like 'ga ga', 'da da' and 'ma ma'. However, your reinforcement of these early sounds to make meaningful words that relate to a person or object will teach them to identify them by the sound they are making.
6 Creative Ways to keep the conversation going
Throughout the early years, there are many ways for you to communicate with your little one in a fun and beneficial way until it becomes second nature. All of these day to day activities help babies to develop language skills and learn new words. Most importantly, they are fun and will teach the art of conversation, talking skills and listening skills in a natural and spontaneous way that will last into adulthood.
Music and singing are a great way to engage your children with words and speaking. When your baby is very young sing a lullaby as you put them to bed. Sing to them when you are changing their nappy. You can put on the radio or go it solo. You don't have to play just children's music either so play a variety of music, in fact, any music is fine as long as the words are age-appropriate. You can play songs in the car and sing along together and before long your little one will be joining in and your toddler will even start requesting their favourite songs.
There are lots of games to play that encourages talking like 'peekaboo' and 'walk round the garden', both of which can be played from a very young age. Games that lead to naming parts of the body, for instance, are great for young babies and toddlers. Playing with a ball can offer new concepts to talk about such as push, catch and roll and explaining what you are doing with your children as you play is also a good way to encourage speech. For instance, counting out the wooden bricks as you make a tower or naming the shapes and their colour as you put them into a puzzle or shape sorter. All of these activities provide opportunities for you to have conversations with your baby.
Nursery rhymes are a great way to develop language and they are ideal because you already know the words so don't have to think about what to say. Young children love the catchy and simple words of nursery rhymes and their repetitive sing-song nature makes them easy to learn. Action rhymes are especially fun for little ones and having a repertoire of nursery rhymes in your parenting toolbox will ensure that you are never lost for words when it comes to communicating in a fun way with your baby.
I am always emphasising the importance of books and reading from an early age and it has been proven that reading to your baby helps brain and language development. It is never too soon to start reading to your baby and picture books are great for babies as you can talk about what you both see on the page. As your baby grows, the books can become more elaborate and always remember that you don't have to always stick to just saying the words on the page. Just talk about what you see.
Books are also a great way to introduce conversation about what is going on in your baby's life such as moving into a bed, being potty trained or going to nursery. Talk about what you see and what is going on in the story. This will help your little one to learn how to talk about their feelings too. For instance, if the person or animal in the story is sad, happy or scared, why that is so and can your child understand why?
Talk your way through the day
Another great way to help your baby's language and communication skills is to keep up a dialogue as you go through your day. Chat about what you are doing from making breakfast to cleaning the house and include your baby in these conversations from day one. At bath time or when you are getting baby dressed count their toes and fingers and name hands and feet. Touch their face and yours and name nose, eyes and mouth. It is also useful to practice using short commonly used words throughout the day. For instance, hold up a ball or cup and say the word. As they get older pause after you say the word to give them the opportunity to repeat it. The opportunities are endless and you will never be at a loss for words if you just talk out loud about what is going on in the day. So just take every opportunity to chat away.
Be engaged and listen too
By talking to your baby you are indicating to them that you love and care for them and that they are worthy of your attention. This is vital in a baby's emotional development, so being engaged and listening are important skills to learn for both parent and child.
Being engaged means making eye contact and paying attention, so when you are spending valuable time with your baby turn off the TV or put down your phone and get down to your little one's level and focus on spending time with them. As they learn to put words together try not to finish their sentences for them but give them the time and encouragement to do it themselves. Always praise any attempt at communication including gestures liking pointing and waving.
When your baby is a little older talk about shared experiences. For instance, if you read in a book about a rainy day, say 'do you remember our walk in the rain the other day and how wet we got?'. You can help to expand your babies vocabulary when they show an interest in an object too. If they pick up a particular toy that they like, talk about how it feels, it's shape and colour, or whether it is heavy or light.
By doing all these things you will be modelling behaviour that is vital to their future communication and listening skills as well as boosting their sense of worth. Most importantly it will build a foundation of mutual respect that will last a lifetime.