More Than Just Talk 

the importance of communicating with your baby

by Bianca Hoang Dang & Dr. Ariana Anderson, Ph.D.

 

Your interactions with your baby shape their future: developmentally, neurologically, socially, academically, and physically (to name a few). Beginning as early as the womb and rising in influence and criticality as your baby grows, it is imperative to be aware of how to foster the best brain – and future – for your baby.  Afterall, 85% of your child’s brain is formed in the first three years of life.

Talking stimulates the brain, particularly during developmental periods as children grow up. This begins as early as in the womb and plays a formative effect on the elasticity and preparedness academically and socially (1). 

The words and conversations that you have with your child influence their first words, their understanding of language, and even their vocabulary. Talking and interacting with your baby may seem one-sided at first, but as your baby develops better communication skills, it will become more apparent that they are engaging in conversation with you well. 

 

Help Your Baby’s Brain Grow

The positive effects of talking to your baby begin as early as in the womb. Babies spoken to in the womb have been found to have a significant correlation with higher levels of brain activity. After birth, babies whose mothers spoke to them before birth show a higher preference to their mother, and their mother’s language, suggesting that neural network formation in the womb is also sensitively affected by the mother’s speaking via her voice and language (2).

Neurobiology, psychology, and animal epigenetic studies have shown that neglect and parental inconsistency (as indicators of love) can lead to long-term mental health problems, reduced overall potential, and even happiness (3). Neurologically, neglected children have reduced growth in their left hemisphere, which can increase the risk for depression and anxiety; and reduced growth in the hippocampus which may impair learning and memory (4). Communicating with your baby often and thoughtfully can help your baby avoid neglect.

 

Setting Foundational Knowledge

Conversations at home can affect the biological growth of the baby’s brain more than affluence. An MIT brain study showed that language skills and higher functioning brain activities in children stem from how “chatty” a household is, rather than their socioeconomic status (5). By learning through social engagement and emotional bonding via conversation, children learn how to interact socially and learn higher-level cognitive skills that meld talking, listening, and reacting to the conversation (6).  A study focusing on premature infants, who are at higher risk for language development delays, had better language and cognitive scores at 7 and 18 months when their parents deliberately and regularly spoke to them (7).

 

Getting Started 

An easy way to talk to your baby is to narrate events occurring at the moment, telling stories, and asking questions. For example, you can talk about the spoon you’re feeding your baby with, or even about the food you made for your baby, what you looked like at your baby’s age. Ask rhetorical questions. The most important aspect is to keep talking to keep exposing your baby to new words and phrases.

Include your baby in the conversations – talk with them, and not just to them (8). The more you talk, the more words you expose to your baby, and the more you engage your baby’s mind in the moment and the conversation. By engaging in conversation with your baby, you are teaching them how to interact in conversation and people. Talking to your baby will help them build language and communication skills, as well as help their brain’s developmental processes. 

 

Sources

  1. Tricia, T., Ph.D. (2013, September 28). Womb to World: Reading and Talking with Babies. Retrieved April 02, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smart-baby/201309/womb-world-reading-and-talking-babies
  2. Eino Partanen et al. 2013 “Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth” at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19058856
  3. Winston, Robert, and Rebecca Chicot. “The Importance of Early Bonding on the Long-Term Mental Health and Resilience of Children.” London Journal of Primary Care 8.1 (2016): 12–14. PMC. Web. 4 Mar. 2018.
  4. Teicher MD. Wounds that time won’t heal: the neurobiology of child abuse. Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on brain science. 2000;2:50–67. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.454.896&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  5. Hardach, S. (2018, February 28). How you talk to your child changes their brain. Retrieved April 02, 2018, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/02/how-you-talk-to-your-child-changes-their-brain/
  6. Raising Children Network. (2015, September 10). Talking with babies and toddlers: Why it's important. Retrieved April 02, 2018, from http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/talking_with_babies_toddlers.html
  7. Caskey, M., Stephens, B., Tucker, R., & Vohr, B. (2014, March 01). Adult Talk in the NICU With Preterm Infants and Developmental Outcomes. Retrieved April 02, 2018, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/133/3/e578
  8. Radesky, J. S., Carta, J., & Bair-Merritt, M. (2016). The 30 Million–Word Gap. JAMA Pediatrics,170(9), 825. https://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?doi=10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.1486