Conversations with Babies Help Them Grow

Since I now work from home my baby and I talk a lot these days, about birds, books, pureed pears, my job search and the weather. It turns out we should talk even more, a new study published this month in Pediatrics suggests. (You can only read an abstract unless you want to pay.)

The more you converse with your baby the more you help his language development, according to the study of 275 families with children age 2 months to three years. In more scientific terms, “each hundred conversational turns per day is associated with a 1.92 increase in the language score,” researchers wrote.

Put more simply, it is not just important to read and speak to your baby, you need to hold conversations – when a baby responds to mom, dad or teacher – and that is a powerful message for caregivers and parents.

“…It should be made clear to parents that an important goal of this talk is to elicit talk from the child. Reading and storytelling should be punctuated by questions and exchanges, and it may be appropriate to counsel parents to encourage parent-child conversations.” -“Teaching by Listening: The Importance of Adult-Child Conversations to Language Development,” Pediatrics, July, 2009.

Now, talking with your baby about quantum physics isn’t a big help. Instead, we should strive to talk in the “just-challenging zone,” where the conversation is not so simple that kids get nothing out of it, such as sports talk radio chatter, or so complex they get confused, according to the article.

One way to get in this zone is through trial and error, researchers suggest, since “more conversations mean more opportunities for mistakes and, therefore, corrections.”

Researchers also point out this study is far from definitive, and instead leaves lots of questions. It also raises other findings that suggest children pick up vocabulary words by overhearing adults talk. I guess the takeaway is to talk with, to and around your kids … though no swearing.

Technology and family policy hawk Lisa Guernsey posted an excellent article over at The Early Ed Watch Blog, complete with links to other relevant studies. (Thanks Lisa for highlighting this research.)

And while this baby conversation article may have run in a medical journal, it offered tips for parents and teachers. For example, reading to your kids is great, but it is even better when you stop, ask questions and talk. The U.S. Department of Education offers more tips about how to make the most of those adult-child conversations.

“Parents should strive to read and talk with children and not merely to them. Parent-child interactions are best when they are a two-way street.”