We all have cute little pet names or voices we might do only for our children, and in fact, I love to change my voice to be silly more than your average mommy. However, not once did I speak to my daughter in baby talk. There's no shame in a little sweet talk with your little one, but from the start, I spoke to my baby girl (now 4) as a regular person.
One day at the park when my daughter was 2, a woman stopped me to say, "Wow, you really talk to her like she's an actual person and she speaks very well. Have you always spoken to her this way?"
I said yes and told her the things I did to help my daughter's blossoming speech production. She said that she had spoken to her first son in "too much baby talk" and was planning on doing something different for her newly born son who she was wearing on her chest.
For me, there was no "Do you want milkies?" or "Here's your din-din," type of chat, and as soon as she could talk, my daughter has been an incredibly articulate child. Could this be due to genetics? Yes, as I am a totally garrulous woman who read very early and has always loved other languages, theater, singing, learning through lecture and reading, etc. Public speaking doesn't give this woman the sweats! However, I would like to also credit how I spoke to her — especially during her early pivotal months and first year — as crucial to her speech development. There's no doubt about it that children develop speech delays for numerous reasons, so you can't beat yourself up about it if your child has a speech issue, but why not give your kid a great start from the beginning?
Narrate the Day
An infant obviously won't talk to you, but that doesn't mean you can't talk to your infant. Besides, all those coos and babbling are talk . . . we just can't quite understand it. Wink. I narrated our day with my child from birth. That would mean telling her what we would do next as well as what we were currently doing. For example, "I'm making your dinner now. You're going to have beans, and Mommy is going to have chicken. It will be done in 10 minutes, and then we'll eat dinner. After dinner, we'll have bath time and stories." Or, "Look at how Pinky chases her rope!" Pinky is our dog.
Yes, it may have seemed as if I were talking to myself, but I made a point to converse about everything and name everything in her environment.
Narrate the day to your infant while those early connections are being formed in the brain! Hey, it can't hurt. You just might feel a little funny at first, or if you were like me and home with your baby, it might save your sanity!
Obviously you're not going to say inappropriate things to your child, but don't think your kids need separate words from the ones you typically use every day. A bottle does not need to be called a "baa," and even long or complex words can and should be used. How else will your child grow his or her vocabulary if you don't enrich his or her environment with complex vocabulary? I never "dumb" it down for my daughter; instead, if she doesn't understand a word, I explain it. In fact, most of the times I already know a certain word is out of her comprehension, so without her even asking, I will explain it right after saying the word and give her context.
Your kids aren't stupid, and the earlier they learn the right and more complex words, the more apt they will be to say those words appropriately.
Turn Off the TV and Tech
Look, a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do, and if that means turning on princesses or ninjas in order to make dinner and not pull your hair out, go for it! No one's judging, and if someone judges, that person is a hypocrite. However, if you've got a few hours or the whole day to spare, turn off the television and turn music on in the background. Music and singing are great ways to help enrich language development and don't require your kid to stare blankly at a small or big screen, ignoring their social development.
As an early childhood teacher, we labeled everything around us. You don't have to go crazy, but it can't hurt to have a print-rich environment. Labels on objects, books easily accessible at child level, paper accessible at child level, and music to sing too, all day long.
I wrote in front of my daughter from a wee age — everything from letters to sentences — and I told her what I was writing. Plus, I gave her access to washable crayons early on. Make words and language fun.
Include Children in on Conversations
Even when your child is a toddler, engage him or her by asking how he or she is doing today. When home from day care, ask about a child's favorite part of the day. Give your child the opportunity to speak.
Older Child Conundrum
Sometimes an older sibling will let the little one do pointing and nodding without encouraging junior to say a peep. Tell your "big" boy or girl to instead speak to the little one in a way that encourages the baby to not only point at the refrigerator for milk but also ask for milk. This will be much easier if your older children are developmentally ready to take this instruction, of course!
Same Goes For You
Instead of relying on a nod or point, ask your child, "What is it that you want? Mommy doesn't understand" rather than getting up and grabbing what you most likely know your kiddo already needs. It's not being mean — it's not enabling your kid to stay silent and instead encouraging your little one to expand his or her speech. This will also expand your child's expressive language skills rather than simply relying on those receptive skills!
It's always nice to teach your child another language, even if you only know how to count to 10 in another language. Making the act fun is what's crucial.
I am fortunate to have a child whose speech development went so smoothly. I know that a parent could do everything else I listed and beyond and still have a child with a speech issue. I also know it's OK to have a few cute words with our kids and babies and be silly, but using proper words, narrating our day, starting conversations with our child, and giving our kids access to conversations, music, and print can help build great expressive and receptive language skills. Why not give them a head start and drop the "gaa-gaas" today?