Building Relationships with your Infant or Toddler
Infants learn language development while still in utero and at birth can differentiate their mothers’ voices from other women.
They also demonstrate a preference for listening to people who are speaking their mothers’ native language over those speaking a foreign language. After birth, an infant will pay more attention to an adult who is speaking directly to the baby rather than an adult who is heard speaking in the environment (as on television). The infant especially pays attention when adults use “infant directed speech” – that speaking style that is often higher pitched and at a slower pace as when a mother speaks to her child in “baby talk”. (Spinelli M, et al. Does prosody make the difference? A meta-analysis on relations between prosodic aspects of infant-directed speech and infant outcomes. Developmental Review 2017; 44:1-18.)
The following tips can help you encourage language and social skills development in your infant or toddler.
- Talk to your infant. Tell her what you are doing – “I am going to change your diaper soon.”
- Parents tend to talk less to baby boys – so if you are the parent of a boy, make sure you are deliberately talking with him.
- Label items for your infant. “Let’s find the book. See, here is the book.” Use the same word several times in different ways so your infant can learn the meaning of the word.
- Point to objects in books, around the house and outside – and label them, too.
- Read books to your infant. Choose books with firm, thick pages so you can allow him to handle the book and put the book in his mouth.
- Play word games with your baby – say “da da da”. Then wait for your baby to try to copy you. This teaches your baby that there is a ‘back and forth’ to conversations.
- Respond quickly when your baby is using sounds to gain your attention. “Oh, are you trying to tell me you need your diaper changed? I will be right there.” This teaches your baby that sounds have meaning.
- Use “emotion words” with your toddler so he can learn about emotions and how to express them. “I am disappointed we can’t go to the park today.” “I am feeling sad, too.” “Do you think the little girl looks happy in the picture?”
- And, of course – put down your cell phone and please don’t let your baby or toddler have access to it – even for ‘educational’ games!
You may even want to keep your cell phone in a special place so it is not easily available. Or you may want to self-impose a time limit on your usage when your baby is awake.