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Baby Talk: Communicating With Your Baby

Your baby's first year will be a flurry of changes -- and not just diapers. From the first smiles, gurgles, and coos to learning to say "mama" or "dada," babies love to communicate with their own form of baby talk. And they hope you'll "baby talk" right back.

All through this first year, you can do a lot to encourage your baby's communication skills. And it's easy. All you need do is smile, talk, sing, and read to your baby.

Why focus on communicating with your baby? Because early speech and language skills are associated with success in developing reading, writing, and interpersonal skills, both later in childhood and later in life.

Baby Talk: Smile and Pay Attention

Long before they can speak clearly, babies understand the general meaning of what you're saying. They also absorb emotional tone. Encourage baby's early attempts to communicate with you with loving attention:

  • Smile often at your baby, especially when he is cooing, gurgling, or otherwise vocalizing with baby talk.
  • Look at your baby as he or she babbles and laughs, rather than looking away, interrupting, or talking with someone else.
  • Be patient as you try to decode your infant's baby talk and nonverbal communication, like facial expressions, gurgling, or babbling sounds that could signal either frustration or joy.
  • Make time to give your baby lots of loving attention, so he can "speak" to you with his or her baby talk, even when you're busy with other tasks.

Baby Talk: Imitate Your Baby

Right from the start, baby talk should be a two-way street. By imitating your baby, you'll send an important message: what he is feeling and trying to communicate matters to you.

  • Have back-and-forth conversations in baby talk to teach your baby the give-and-take of adult conversation.
  • Imitate baby's vocalizations -- "ba-ba" or "goo-goo" -- then wait for him to make another sound, and repeat that back.
  • Do your best to respond, even when you don't understand what your baby is trying to say.
  • Reinforce communication by smiling and mirroring facial expressions.
  • Because gestures are a way babies try to communicate, imitate your baby's gestures, as well.

Baby Talk: Talk Often to Your Baby

Babies love to hear you talk -- especially to them, and especially in a warm, happy voice. Babies learn to speak by imitating the sounds they hear around them. So the more you talk to your baby, the faster he will acquire speech and language skills.

  • Many adults use a special tone of voice when talking baby talk -- a high-pitched voice with exaggerated expression. This natural baby talk mimics the female voice, which babies the world over associate with feeding and comfort. Keep in mind that talking "baby talk" won't prevent or delay your infant from learning adult speech later.
  • Engage your baby's listening skills by talking often to him throughout the day, narrating your activities together. Talk as you're feeding, dressing, carrying, and bathing your baby, so he or she begins to associate these sounds of language with everyday objects and activities.
  • Repeat simple words like "mama" and "bottle" often and clearly so your baby begins to hear familiar words and associate them with their meaning.

WebMD Medical Reference

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