More chatting good for your tiny tot´s self-image
A new baby brings extreme excitement in the home during the first week or two. When the routine more or less settles down, daddy and particularly mummy start asking “and now?”, and “where do I start helping this little one to develop?”. Hanlie Degenaar is a speech-language therapist at the Institute of Psychology and Well-being at the North-West University (NWU) and has spot-on advice.
“Your relationship with your baby forms the foundation for your baby’s later development and achievements. A solid relationship that makes the baby feel safe, is all-important. The talking and reactions of mummy and daddy determine the solidity of this relationship. Relationships always begin with communication. Communication experiences form your baby’s development. These include social, emotional, intelligence, motorial, speech and language development. These development areas are interwoven; the one influences and supports the other. Talk time with your baby, even in the first few weeks of his or her life, is very important for building a close-knit relationship and boosting development.”
New-born babies are very sensitive to daddy’s and especially mummy’s talking. Babies can differentiate between speech and ambient sounds and rather listen to talking and sentences than to words and the sounds of toys.
“It is interesting to know that babies’ eyes search for the closest object when they hear speech. They only listen to any other sounds without immediately looking for an object.” Degenaar says that even though babies cannot understand language, they are very clever in knowing that speech sounds match objects. “This is how they ultimately learn which words match which objects and which word matches which action. Thus their understanding of language develops.”
What your baby pays attention to
When we think about communication, we think about the physical utterance and understanding of words and sentences. Degenaar says research has shown that communication is much more than that.
“Variation in the intonation and the rhythm when uttering a sentence, can completely change the meaning, even though the words remain the same. Think about it when you say: “Come on! Beddy time” with intonation rising from high to low, slower speech, soft touching and a friendly face. This compared to the same words but with emphasis on “on” and “beddy”, little intonation, faster speech in a louder voice and knitted brows! Different messages are given with the same words. Facial expression, the way someone looks at you and the accompanying movements are all part of communication.
“It is therefore no surprise that babies who cannot yet talk nor fully understand language, will rather pay attention to rhythm, intonation, facial expression and movements. In this way they deduce the meaning of words and develop their vocabulary. How mummy and daddy talk during the first few months, is more important than what they talk about.”
Babies similarly communicate all their needs and feelings within the first few weeks by means of the manner in which they make eye contact, the movements they make, their facial expression and how they produce different sounds. Degenaar says babies can already communicate discomfort, fear, sadness, anger, joy and horror through facial expressions in the first weeks. “When daddy and mummy listen and watch their baby keenly, they will be surprised to hear how much their baby is telling them.”
Take turns to talk
By taking turns to listen and tell stories, form part of a good conversation. “Mummy and daddy often think they have to talk to their baby a lot and then they talk nonstop, without giving the baby a chance to answer. Babies can already have a turn within the first day or two after birth. The most important thing mummy and daddy can do, is to give the baby a chance by waiting often to see whether the baby is trying to communicate in some way or another.”
Your baby imitates everything
Babies start imitating daddy’s and mummy’s communication very early. “At approximately four weeks babies already imitate the intonation and rhythm patterns of mummy’s and daddy’s speech. If daddy and mummy notice this imitation of communication and react positively, the baby will want to do it repeatedly. Thus understanding and communication are practised. The more daddy and mummy react when the baby communicates, the better the baby’s communication development.”
Research shows that the language development of babies whose parents react positively to the baby’s movements, facial expressions, sounds and babbling sounds is better than the language development of babies whose parents only react to their baby’s speech and language.
What can parents do?
Many parents usually ask what they should say to the baby. “It can be quite difficult to think about things to talk about. Fortunately research shows that parents need not take the lead when it comes to chatting. It is best to let the baby take the lead.”
Do the following:
- Look at what your baby is looking at, observe his or her movements, facial expression and the sounds he or she is making.
- Try to guess what your baby is thinking.
- Say out loud what you think your baby is thinking about.
Say it with suitable intonation, facial expression and add an action.
- Repeat it and wait.
- Watch how your baby reacts and repeat it in much the same manner.
Daddy’s talking is also important
Degenaar says daddies often feel uncomfortable and off-centre to communicate with their baby in this manner. She says fathers who are involved in the daily care and talk to their baby in this manner, make an important contribution to the baby’s development. Research shows that babies of these fathers have more self-confidence later and also find it easier to socialise with friends.
Many chats with your very young baby is therefore extremely important for his or her development. “Chat to your baby about things which interest him or her. You can only do this if you pay close attention to your baby’s type of communication. Make sure that your baby gets enough opportunities to talk and make your talking interesting through intonation, movements and facial expressions. In this way you and your baby are forging a firm relationship and you are investing in your baby’s future well-being and achievement.”