Babies start to learn about language even before they begin to speak. When they cry or babble, and receive a caring response from an adult in return, they are forming and strengthening neural connections related to communication and social skills. These interactions are known as “serve and return” interactions, and are critical for development. Interactive relationships between parents and their babies are not only expected, but are also essential to avoid developmental delays or a negative impact on future well-being. The quality of the baby’s environment and the availability of enriching experiences early on will be critical in determining the strength of his or her future brain architecture.
It is important for parents to remember that overheard conversations will not help a baby’s language development: parents need to speak directly to the baby (making eye contact) to enable vocabulary learning. In addition, young children under the age of 2 should avoid screen viewing (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics), as this can have lasting negative effects on the child’s language development, reading skills, short-term memory, and sleep. Unfortunately, this means that you should probably not let your little one watch an episode of Dora The Explorer or Bob The Builder by him or herself very often. Even videos that claim to teach your baby new words can actually be detrimental to his or her development. If you want to stimulate your baby’s language skills, he or she will need frequent face-to-face interactions.
As shown above, the best way to boost language development is for parents and caregivers to focus on verbal interactions. Parents should try to talk to their babies as frequently as possible – the sooner they start, the better! Parents should try to fit conversations into daily activities (whatever the activity may be, it can be explained out loud to the baby!). By increasing parental verbal engagement, the potential to change the course of their little one’s vocabulary growth, language development, and future reading skills is very high.
If you want to get started on verbal interactions, here’s one of our activities that has ideas for just that! Take a look here: