The first few days of a baby’s life often fill parents with wonder while all is new. Life usually settles down into a seemingly non-stop routine of sleep, clean, feed, clean, sleep with periods of play, excursions to stores, parks, and visits with family and friends. Babies arrive with skills for communicating to us their needs. and to motivate us to solve their problems. Babies have lots of other ways to communicate with their caregivers without words. Words seem unnecessary but are words unnecessary?
Babies’ words are unnecessary. Babies do not use words to communicate for a long time. They understand words much more quickly than they speak words; and, it is years before anyone is going to get too concerned with whether or not a baby is speaking. The words spoken by parents, however, are absolutely necessary.
Betty Hart and Todd Risley conducted a fantastic study of children and the adults around them from the baby’s birth until fourth grade. In this study their research team recorded every word spoken to the baby by the people around the baby from birth to age two years next the children completed a serious of tests to estimate intelligence. The authors had expected that babies who grew up surrounded by adults speaking to the child more and with more varied words might have more success in school. In fact, the number of different words spoken to the baby very strongly predicted a child’s school performance. Children who grow up in homes with adults who spoke with the child infrequently or with adults using a limited vocabulary are at a marked disadvantage compared to children is homes with lots of language. This result was found with both low- and high-income families.
You have a super power to give your baby a fantastic start. Teach your child by paying attention to them and describing the child, the world, the future, and ideas. Describe, narrate, imagine aloud, tell them what to expect, what happened, what is happening. Tell them how beautiful, smart, strong, creative, fast, persistent, determined, calm, sad, angry, happy they appear to be. You are teaching your child how to think about your child when you describe what the baby is doing and why it is good. You have the power to help them grow and advance without teaching, controlling, or pushing. You will do that for them for the rest of their life before they even know what you have taught given them.
Dr. Kelly M. Champion is the owner operator of Cadeus Behavioral Health – a small clinical and forensic psychology practice. She has worked as a professor, researcher, clinical supervisor, presenter, clinician, and now a business owner and expert court-witness. She specializes in children, adolescents, families and adults coping with problems in living and exposure to violence. She is an advocate for violence prevention, strengthening families, and professional psychology. She has been involved in different roles with the American Psychological Association, ACT Raising Safe Kids parenting program since 2010. She currently serves as a co-chair to the Research Action Team of the National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence and is active with Iowa Psychological Association. She is the step parent of two adults and the parent of two teenagers.