Want to Boost Baby’s Language Skills? Try Talking Back!
After months of either relative silence or incessant crying, most parents welcome baby’s stream of babbling with open arms. (Finally, no more one-sided convos!) But a new study found that how you respond to your infant’s gibberish could have a major impact on how and when she communicates.
Researchers at the University of Iowa and Indiana University discovered that when parents listen and respond to babbling, they’re telling their children that they can communicate, which in turn leads to an earlier use of language. (It’s kind of that whole fake-it-til-you-make-it idea.)
The study, published in the July/August edition of the journal Infancy, involved 12 moms interacting with their 8-month-old infants twice a month for 30 minutes over the course of six months. Researchers observed how the moms responded to their babies’ babbling and cooing during the free time play. They found that children whose mothers tried to understand their sounds were more prone to making babble that sounded like actual words — what experts call consonant-vowel vocalizations. Over time, these babies also started directing their gibberish right to mom, just like in a real conversation. On the other hand, infants whose moms didn’t engage as much with their babble and instead redirected their attention to something else didn’t show the same level of growth in language development.
Still, that doesn’t mean you have to jump into a lengthy conversation every time baby opens her mouth. “It’s not that we found responsiveness matters,” says Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Iowa and corresponding author on the study. “It’s how a mother responds that matters.”
While the study’s authors admitted that more research with a larger sample size is needed, these findings are a terrific reminder that we parents are our baby’s best teachers. Sure, you might feel a little silly narrating your daily errands to your newborn right now, but it won’t be long before she lets out that first “ba ba ba” — and you’ll realize the conversation is just beginning.
Tell us: How do you respond to your baby’s babbling?
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