Why we need to talk to our babies, and often

Kinderling News & Features

Babies are the source of so much delight and confusion.

When you first bring them home, in those early weeks when you’re ensconced in your love bubble, you can spend many hours just staring into their faces. Faces that can display very funny expressions, but also faces full of love and wonder.

Marc de Rosnay, Professor of Child Development at the University of Wollongong, says that even though babies (between four weeks and two months) aren’t speaking, they’ve already started communicating with us. All we need to do is slow down and be present with our child.

“All those early communications are intimate, they’re here, they’re now, they’re sensual, they’re emotional,” he says. “There are all sorts of reasons for that, loving reasons, or hormones surging through our bodies, the baby being built to suck you in to communication. But there’s a really practical reason [for this] is babies can’t refer to things, they don’t point yet, they can‘t talk about something, they can only exchange what’s going on in real time between you and me until about nine months, until they can start to bring other things in to reference.”

Slowing down and interacting with your baby at their pace is important, because setting strong early communication patterns will help transfer good communication skills as they move into each developmental phase.

Listen to Marc on Kinderling Conversation:

Part of this process is simply talking to them.

Marc says that when we speak to our babies, it helps them build their understanding of language, and aids in their development - something all children need to thrive. Good communication can be as simple as being able to explain your wants and needs, to being able to connect with other human beings.

According to Marc, there's at least 40 years of good science showing that babies are very attentive to language, and that they understand much more than they can speak.

“By the time they’re between 12 and 18 months they understand a huge amount of language, and they’re well on their way to producing language,” Marc says. “They’re using gestures, signs, symbols and routines to show that they understand language. To get to that point they need to be exposed to language, they need to have people interacting with them so that they can become rich understanders of language.”

However, parents don’t always talk to their children. There are a variety of reasons for this. One could be that the parent is under extreme stress (such as post natal depression, a lack of support or domestic violence). Another, much more pedestrian reason is that parents think their children simply won’t understand them.

But when children are being spoken to and when they’re surrounded by language, amazing things happen. For example, if you’re chatting with your friends while nursing your baby, your baby is busy learning.

Marc says in this scenario babies are “pulling out the sounds that they need for language, they’re observing how communication functions, so there’s observational learning, there’s automatic learning of the sound groups of our languages and the porosity of our language.”

If you’re feeling a bit awkward about chatting to your baby, Marc suggests that you just talk about whatever you’re doing, whether that’s putting the clothes out on the line, cooking dinner, or getting letters out of the mailbox.

Failing that, get out with your friends and let your baby soak up your conversations.

Either way, babies need our words in order to build their own, so get chatting people! It won’t be long before they’re answering back.