How to talk to your baby

For some mums, chatting to their little ones comes naturally, but for others, it can feel daunting to talk to a tiny baby - what an earth should they say?! However, experts know that talking is one of the most important skills your baby will learn and mums and dads especially, have an important role to play in helping their children learn to communicate.

How to talk to your babyThe more you talk with and listen to your baby, the more you help him learn, develop good relationships, do well at school and be a confident, happy child. For those worrying about how or what they will say to their baby, help is at hand! Cathy Hamer, Director of policy at the National Literacy Trust, (www.talktoyourbaby.org.uk)answers questions from parents about when and how to start talking to your little one to guide you from birth to creating little chatter boxes!

1.    When should I start talking to my baby?

Cathy Hamer: You can't start early enough!  Getting to know your baby starts before birth.  As you feel your baby move, start talking to your bump and encourage your partner to do the same. Your baby can already hear your voice.  Research shows that when babies are born they recognise their mother's voice and first language compared to other languages. Singing and  talking will help your baby recognise your voice after birth.

Your baby will find your voice reassuring and enjoy it when you smile and talk. You can give your child the best possible start in life by communicating with you baby - talking, listening and responding to your  baby's sounds and expressions. By making a connection with your baby from the earliest possible  opportunity you are starting a lifelong conversation that will benefit both of you more than you can begin to imagine.

2.    I'm a first time parent and really have very little idea when my child will begin to develop language.  Where can I go to find out more?

Cathy Hamer: Babies are sociable from birth and ill use a range of ways to attract attention. Your baby's first cry is the beginning of communication. As you look into your baby's eyes share your thoughts and wait for a response.  Always respond when your baby is trying to communicate. Your baby's first smile shows he wants you to engage. Babies make social contact through their facial expressions, movements, gestures and words. This is the first step in learning to talk.  The National Literacy Trust's  www.talktoyourbaby.org.uk website for parents has free fact sheets that you can download outlining the typical milestones in a baby and young child's language development.  

There's also lots of hints and tips on talking with your baby as well as activities - such as songs, colouring sheets and nursery rhymes and ways of sharing books - to stimulate chat and develop your child's language.

3.    I'm going to be a first time mum.  None of my friends or siblings have children yet and so I haven't been around babies much.  I want to do the best for my baby so I'd really appreciate any hints and tips on  how to get started.

Cathy Hamer: The fact that you're thinking about this before your baby is  born shows just how much you care about  your important role as a parent as you already want to do the best for your child. Just put into words what you think your baby is trying to say and tell you. 

Chat with him about your everyday activities and what is happening.  and watch him enjoy  responding to you with sounds that are the beginnings of language. Copying your baby's sounds will let her know that you're interested in what she's saying and encourage her to listen and later start to make sounds into words. Use short sentences and repeats key words and as your baby will need to hear a word many times before he can understand and start to use language.  It may not come completely naturally at first but you'll be surprised how quickly it becomes second nature to have a conversation with your baby.

Make eye contact, play games, such a 'peek a boo', chat about what you're doing, such as naming body parts when you're bathing your baby, share books and rhymes like 'round and round the garden'  - it's all just about immersing your home in language!  Babies are like sponges and learn more in the first few years of their life than at any other time in their life.  By the age of three 80% of a baby's brain is formed so use this window of opportunity to talk, talk, talk and give your child the key life skill of communication.

4.    I don't naturally talk a lot. In fact I'm really shy, even with my friends.  Will this affect my child's  language development?

Cathy Hamer: You're not alone.  Talking doesn't come naturally to everyone.  But there's no huge 'art' to it.  Don't feel the pressure to always say something exciting. Your baby will love making a connection with you and needs you to grow, learn and develop. Don't forget you know your baby better than anyone  Simply talking about what you are both looking at as you walk down the road or putting away the shopping will give your baby the opportunity to learn new words and how words are strung together to make  sentences.

Remember as well that not all communication is verbal.  Smiling at your baby every time they make a  noise and responding to their sounds is a way of 'conversing' with them and building their confidence in trying out their developing communication skills.

Create a daily routine, give lots of love, cuddles and play copying games, such as sticking out your tongue and opening your mouth wide. If you wait and watch she'll imitate you. Make eye contact and gain your baby's attention when you're talking with him.  Play games in the language that you speak at home.  Above all enjoy your baby and he'll enjoy one to one chats with you.

5.    My little boy who is 18 months old hardly has any language. By this age his sister was speaking in short sentences and seemed to have a new word every day but he's only got about five.  Should I be concerned?

Cathy Hamer: It is always good to keep an eye on your child's developing language skills and to be aware of whether they seem to be progressing and developing new skills. Children do learn to talk at different rates and there is a lot of variation in 'typical' development. Usually by the age of 18 months children can understand words like 'drink' and simple instructions, such as 'give me'. By that age too they will usually gesture or point to show what they want and have an increasing vocabulary of simple words, such as, 'daddy' ,'cup', 'car', 'book'.

You can really help your little boy by looking at books, singing songs and nursery rhymes with him. Encourage him to tell you the names of things and talk about what's happening when you're out and about. This will help him to connect language to the world around him. Repeating and expanding on what your little boy is saying will help too. If he says 'daddy' you can say 'daddy gone' or 'daddy car' which shows him how words are put together to make short sentences.

On the talktoyourbaby.org.uk website there's lots of hints and tips sheets that you can download that will give you ideas for sharing language and books.

 6.    I had postnatal depression after having my baby and am only now, after her first birthday emerging from this difficult period.  How can we both catch up on lost time?

Cathy Hamer: I'm so sorry to hear that you've had such a difficult time. However, as you're asking this question now shows how far you've come and how much you appreciate how important you are to your baby.

But you mustn't be hard on yourself.  1 in 10 mums in the UK experience post natal depression so you're certainly not alone.  Adapting to being a parent is not always easy, even when you're not suffering from postnatal depression, and nearly every parent will have experienced days where they simply don't feel up  to communicating with anyone, even their baby.  

The good news is that it's NEVER too late to get going!   Talk, sing and play with your baby at every opportunity.  Chat about the day ahead over breakfast, include your little girl's name when you sing songs, share books together and , talk about everyday routines. Respond to your child's attempts to  communicate. Smiling, showing an interest in what your daughter's saying and repeating words back to her will encourage her to make sounds into words. 

Play games that you remember from your childhood, perhaps This little piggy went to market, enjoy  bathtime and doing , play turn taking games like 'peek a boo'.  Taken together, all of these activities will help your little one understand the basic rules of communication and delight in learning language. 

Courtesy of 'Yahoo! Lifestyle UK'

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