How Do You Talk To a Baby?

Do a running commentary.

    Don’t make a move, at least when you’re around your baby, without talking about it. Narrate the dressing process;’Now I’m putting on your nappy . .. here goes the T-shirt over your head. . . now I’m buttoning your dungarees’. In the kitchen describe the washing of the dishes, or the process of seasoning the pasta sauce. During the bath, explain about soap and rinsing, and that a shampoo makes the hair shiny and clean. It doesn’t matter that your baby hasn’t the slightest inkling of what you’re talking about. Blow-by-blow descriptions help get you talking and baby listening – thereby starting him or her on the path to understanding,

Ask a lot.

    Don’t wait until your baby starts having answers to start asking questions. Think of yourself as a reporter, your baby as an intriguing interviewee. The questions can be as varied as your day; ‘Would you like to wear the red trousers or the green dungarees?’ ‘Isn’t the sky a beautiful blue today? ‘Should I buy green beans or broccoli for dinner?’ Pause for an answer (one day your baby will surprise you with one), and then supply the answer yourself, out loud (‘Broccoli? Good choice’).

Give baby a chance.

    Studies show that infants whose parents talk with them rather than at them learn to talk earlier. Give your baby a chance o get in a coo, a gurgle or a giggle. In your running commentaries, be sure to leave some openings for baby’s comments.

Keep it simple

    – some of the time. Though right now your baby would probably derive listening measure from a dramatic recitation of Hamlet’s soliloquy or an animated assessment of the economy, as he or she gets a bit older, you’ll want to make it easier to pick out individual words. So at least part of the time, make a conscious effort to use simple sentences and phrases: ‘See the light’, ‘Bye-bye’, ‘Baby’s fingers, ‘baby’s toes’, and ‘Nice doggie’.

Put aside pronouns.

    It’s difficult for a baby to grasp that ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘you’ can be mummy, or daddy, or grandma, or even baby – depending on who’s talking. So most of the time, refer to yourself as ‘mummy or “daddy’ or ‘grandma’ and to your baby by name: ‘Now Daddy is going to change Amanda’s nappy’.

Raise your pitch.

    Most babies prefer a high-pitched voice, which may be why women’s voices are usually naturally higher-pitched than men’s, and why most mothers’ (and father’s) voices climb an octave or two when addressing their infants. Try raising your pitch when talking directly to your baby, and watch the reaction. (A few infants prefer a lower pitch: experiment to see which appeals to yours.)

Bring on the baby talk

    … or not. If the silly stuff (‘Who’s my little bunny-wunny?’) comes naturally to you, babble away in baby talk. If it doesn’t, feel free to skip it. If you’re big on baby talk, don’t forget to throw some correct, more adult English into your conversations with your infant, too, so that he or she won’t grow up thinking all words end with a y or ie.

Stick to the here and now.

    Though you can muse about almost anything to your baby, there won’t be any noticeable comprehension for a while. As comprehension does develop, you will want to stick more to what the baby can see or is experiencing at the moment. A young baby doesn’t have a memory for the past or a concept of the future.

Imitate.

    Babies love the flattery that comes with imitation. When baby coos, coo back; when he or she utters an ‘Ahh’, utter one, too. Imitation will quickly become a game that you’ll both enjoy, and which will set the foundation for baby’s imitating your language – it will also help build self-esteem (‘What I say matters!’).

Set it to music.

    Don’t worry if you can’t carry a tune – little babies are notoriously undiscriminating when it comes to music. They’ll love what you sing to them whether it’s a current hit, an old favourite or just some nonsense you’ve set to a familiar tune. If your sensibilities (or your neighbours) prohibit a song, then singsong will do. Most nursery rhymes entrance even young infants. And accompanying hand gestures, if you know some or can make some up, double the delight. Your baby will quickly let you know which are favourites, and which you’ll be expected to sing over and over and over again.

Read aloud.

    Though at first the words will have no meaning to baby, its never too early to begin reading some simple rhyming stories or board books out loud. When you aren’t in the mood for baby talk and crave some adult-level stimulation, share your love of literature (or recipes or gossip or politics) with your little one by reading what you like to read, aloud.

Take your cues from baby.

    Incessant chatter and song can be tiresome for anyone, even an infant. When your baby becomes inattentive to your wordplay, closes or averts his or her eyes, becomes fussy or cranky, or otherwise indicates the verbal saturation point has been reached, give it a rest.

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