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If you have a new baby of your own and want to encourage their speech development, you may find yourself wondering how to talk to them.
Or maybe you just don’t have much experience with babies and you’re wondering how to connect with a niece or a friend’s little one.
Good “baby talk” is built on a solid foundation of emotive speaking and gestures that reinforce your words.
Babies are highly receptive and can read your emotions and understand what you are trying to explain.
There are lots of things you can do to make this process easier for a baby.
Encouraging Your Baby to Talk
Imitate your baby.
Some people get nervous when talking to a baby—don’t worry, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way.
But there are several things you can do to make your conversation enjoyable and effective for both of you.
One of the best ways to talk to your baby is to simply repeat what they say.
Imitating a baby tells them that what they are trying to say matters to you.
Simply repeat the sounds your baby makes.
For example, if they say “Ki ki!” you can say “Ki ki!” right back.
Use different inflections in your voice to make it feel more like a conversation.
When you repeat the baby’s sounds, offer additional encouragement in the form of smiles and a positive tone of voice.
When you are talking to a baby, show enthusiasm. Respond in an upbeat tone to whatever noises she makes.
If your baby is crying, respond to her vocally.
Try saying, “What’s wrong? Are you hungry?”
Babies can tell when you are paying attention to them. When your baby is “talking” to you, respond.
If your baby is not being vocal, but is looking around or trying to grab for something, you can respond to those cues, too.
For example, say, “Are you looking at your brother? That’s your brother, Steve.
He’s coloring right now.”
Your baby can interpret your tone of voice, so make it encouraging.
When talking to a baby, try to demonstrate enthusiasm.
This shows your interest, and that you are engaged with what they’re doing.
Try offering an exclamation when your baby does something.
For instance, you can say, “Wow, what a big smile! That makes my day!
Offer encouraging statements to show your enthusiasm.
Try “I’m so glad to be home from work!
I’m excited for time with you!”
They might not understand the words, but they will pick up on the sentiment.
Narrate your day.
Your baby might not understand everything you do, but the best way for them to learn is by show and tell.
Throughout the day, describe your actions to your baby.
Say, “Let’s get you dressed and then go eat breakfast!”
After hearing these types of things repeatedly, the meaning will start to sink in.
Use descriptive words. You could say,
“It’s a good thing we put your hat on. It is cold today. Brrr!”
Experts have not found that baby talk impedes a baby’s ability to learn.
So feel free to mix in a silly tone or a wacky phrase you like into your narration.
Do what feels natural to you, while mixing in adult phrases and words.
Sing to your baby.
Research shows that babies can detect rhythmic patterns when they are only 1 day old.
That means from almost the moment they are born, music can be an important part of a baby’s life.
Try singing to your baby to connect with them.
Singing and music are comforting to your baby, so try a simple melody if they are fussing.
Singing has also been shown to be beneficial for the language development of a baby.
Choose an old favorite like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or introduce them to your favorite Adele song.
Smile when you talk to the baby.
When talking to a baby, your actions are as important as your words.
Reinforce what you are saying with appropriate facial expressions.
A smile is especially important.
Babies understand that it is a positive facial expression.
Your baby will likely spontaneously start to smile, especially when they see people that they recognize.
You can encourage this behavior by smiling at them.
Try playing visual games such as peek-a-boo.
When you reveal your face, offer a big smile.
It’s important to remember that everything is new to a baby.
They also can’t properly vocalize their needs or emotions.
It’s important to practice patience when talking to any baby and to be kind.
Try different remedies.
If the baby is fussy, you can try feeding them, changing them, or cuddling them.
Even babies need space. Sometimes your baby might seem to be fussing for no apparent reason.
It could be that they are over-stimulated.
Be patient, and let them have silence for a while
Use the right tone.
Tone of voice resonates with babies, just as it does with adults.
When talking to a baby, the most important thing is to keep your tone warm and happy.
This helps reinforce all of the positive things you are saying to them.
Research shows that babies respond to the female voice.
This is why many people instinctively make their voice sound high-pitched when talking to a baby.
This is a perfectly fine way to talk to your baby.
Make your tone cheerful no matter what you are saying.
It’s fine to say “Oh, darn! I spilled the milk!” as long as you say it in an upbeat tone.
Show physical affection.
Don’t be afraid to shower a baby with kisses.
Research tells us that babies who receive a lot of physical affection grow up to have less anxiety.
Physical affection can have amazing positive benefits for a baby.
In addition to kissing a baby, you can offer gentle hugs and cuddles.
Tickling a baby’s tummy or feet is another way to show physical affection.
Listen actively to your baby.
Your baby can tell when you are paying attention to them.
Demonstrate that you are engaged by showing that you are actively listening.
Make eye contact with them when they are verbalizing.
Try not to interrupt when your baby is “talking.” Letting them babble is a great way to encourage the development of their language skills.
Show your baby that you are interested when they are babbling by making eye contact and smiling in response to what they are saying.
Talking to an Older Baby
Research what to expect at your baby’s developmental stage.
Although your baby reacts to your words and voice almost immediately, it will take a while for them to understand the meaning of individual words.
For example, most babies will begin recognizing and responding to their name at about 9 months old.
At 12 to 15 months, they will begin to process simple requests, such as “stop” or “quiet, please.” Remember, all children develop at different speeds.
Many children will not understand multi-step sentences until they are around 3 years old.
For example, the phrase “Pick up your toys and put them away” is not something that kids will understand during their first couple of years.
Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your child’s individual development.
Encourage talking by speaking to your baby.
One of the best ways to help develop your baby’s language skills is to talk to them.
They will learn by hearing your words and observing your actions.
For example, when you are ready to feed them, say, “Are you ready to eat your dinner?”
They will begin to understand what this means at around 9 months.
At around 12 months, your baby will probably have a vocabulary of about 20 words.
These words will generally be things they are very familiar with, such as “Mama,” “Dada,” and maybe “milk”.
When they talk, demonstrate that you are listening and engaged.
For example, when they ask for milk, say, “Here is your milk!
Thank you for using your words to ask for that!”
Reward your baby’s efforts to talk with action.
Parents become very good at anticipating their pre-verbal babies’ wants and needs.
Once your baby starts learning to talk, you can encourage them by waiting to act on their wants until they make an effort to verbalize.
For example, if your baby is reaching for a toy car that is just out of reach, don’t hand it to them right away.
Instead, say, “Do you want your car?” Give them a moment to respond verbally (e.g., they might say “ca!”).
If they do, hand them the toy and say, “Good job! Car!”
Teach new words.
You can help your baby’s vocabulary grow by helping them to learn new words.
Make this a fun activity.
Babies love to play simple games, so turn language into a fun activity for them.
For example, make a game out of teaching them the names for parts of their body.
You can say, “Where is Rachel’s nose? There’s Rachel’s nose!” while you point to their nose and laugh.
Singing is also a great way to teach your baby new words.
Rhyming songs can help your baby hear patterns in language.
Songs that use words with motions are also great, such as “Wheels on the Bus.”
Reading to your baby is one of the best ways to teach them new words.
It’s also an excellent way to bond with your baby.
Understanding the Benefits of Talking to Your Baby
Help their brain grow by talking to them. Talking to a baby is lots of fun.
It’s also incredibly important to their development.
Some evidence shows that the spoken word is one of the keys to the early learning of a baby.
Talking to them will help them learn.
Use a combination of words, facial expressions, and actions to show your baby that you are engaged in communicating with them.
Develop their emotions through verbal interaction.
Talking to a baby can help them develop emotionally as well as intellectually.
By talking to them, you are demonstrating social skills and human reactions.
Listening to you talk introduces your baby to the way emotions like happiness and excitement are expressed.
Hearing conversations is one of the first ways a baby can learn about interactions between people.
Increase your bond.
Babies are naturally responsive to their mother’s voice.
That makes sense, since they heard it long before they were born.
If you are not the mother, you can increase your bond with the baby by talking to them.
By bonding with the baby, you are increasing their sense of safety and security.