You play "peek-a-boo" with your baby. You talk to her while you're changing her diaper. You sing to her as you rock her to sleep. And when she happily coos, babbles, and gurgles, you make those sounds right along with her.
It's fun, but it’s also crucial to her development.
Her young brain is soaking up the sounds, tones, and language she'll use to say her first words. You play a big role. Children who have parents who talk to them often tend to form stronger language and conversational skills than kids who don't.
The best way to speak to your little one may be what comes most naturally: that sing-songy way many of us speak to infants -- "How are youuu?!" "You want the baaaall?" It's baby talk, and it can fuel your child's language development.
Why It's Good for Your Baby’s Brain
Infants tend to pay more attention and respond more eagerly to baby talk than to normal adult conversation. The playfully exaggerated and high-pitched tone your voice takes lights up your little one's mind.
Eighty percent of her brain’s physical development happens during her first 3 years. As her brain gets bigger, it also forms the connections it needs to think, learn, and process information. These connections, called synapses, form at a super-fast rate, about 700 per second in the first few years.
Speaking to your baby fires up those important synapses in the part of her brain that handles language. The more words she hears, the stronger those mental connections get. That process can strengthen your child’s future language skills and her overall ability to learn.
Infants who get more baby talk know more words by age 2 than their peers.
Baby Talk Basics
For your little one to get the most benefits:
- Talk with her often. Talkative parents tend to have talkative children.
- Get some alone time with your infant. Baby talk is most beneficial when it's one-on-one between parent and child, with no other adults or children around.
- When your baby tries to talk back to you, don't interrupt or look away. She needs to know you care about listening to her.
- Look your child in the eyes. She'll respond better to speech when she's looking right at you.
- Limit how much TV she sees and hears. Too much can stunt language growth. Besides, you’re more fun than the voice on the screen, right?
- Throw in some grown-up speak, too. Your baby needs to hear how words sound in everyday conversation.
As your child develops and matures, so should the way you talk to her.
At 1 to 3 months
Your infant is communicating with you by cooing, making gurgling sounds and, of course, crying. She's also listening to you -- she may smile, move her arms and legs, or coo when you speak to her a certain way.
- Talk, sing, coo, babble, and play peek-a-boo with your child.
- Narrate your activities. During baths, meals, or play, tell her what you're doing and what she's looking at.
- Read to your baby and talk about the pictures you see.
- Celebrate, smile, and act excited when she makes sounds and smiles.
- At around 2 months, babies start making vowel sounds ("ah-ah" or "oh-oh"). Mimic these sounds, and mix in some real words, too.
- When she makes a sound, you should make the sound as well, and then wait for her to respond. This will teach her how to have a conversation.
At 4 to 7 months
She’ll start trying to copy sounds she hears. You'll notice her exploring her own sounds and inflections. She may even raise or drop her voice as she tries to express her feelings.
- Use the noises she makes to encourage words. If she says "bah," say "bottle" or "book."
- Expand your conversations. When talking, speak slowly and start stressing certain words. For example, hold a ball and say, "Do you want a ball? This is your ball." Then be silent to encourage her to respond.
- Introduce your baby to different objects. When she looks at something, point it out and tell her what it is.
- Read to your child every day, especially colorful picture books and magazines. Name the pictures you see and praise your baby when she babbles along with you as you read.
At 8 to 12 months
She’ll start to understand certain words (like "no") and say some, too (like "mama" or "dada"). By the time she's a year old, she’ll also understand certain commands, like "Wave bye-bye."
- Keep talking about what you and your baby are doing, looking at, or pointing to. If she points to a car and says "car," say “Yes, that’s a red car.”
- Name just about every object your child comes in contact with -- a toy, spoon, milk, etc. Also start pointing out body parts -- point to her arm and say, "arm," and point to yours and say, "Daddy's (or Mommy's) arm."
- Help your child express in words what she’s feeling.
- Use positive statements to direct her behavior. Instead of saying "Don't stand," say "Time to sit."
- When you need to stop your child from doing something, say a firm “no.” Don’t yell or give long explanations.
- Sing songs that have actions, like "Itsy Bitsy Spider." Have fun acting out the song with your child.
- Babies at this age love to imitate words they hear, so you might want to watch what you say, or you may hear it repeated.
All children learn to communicate at their own pace. Don't worry too much if your baby isn’t talking as quickly as you'd thought she would. If you have real concerns, though, talk with her doctor about it.