Friday, September 23, 2005

Conversations with Baby: The How-To's

Does this title catch your interest and make you wonder? If it did, you must be asking, "How can I hold a conversation with someone who is too young to talk?" You wonder what could be the purpose of such an exercise. When we think of conversations, we think of sharing ideas. Conversations are generally thought of as taking place between equals. We discuss politics, world affairs, and the important parts of life. In this context, babies and even most children can't begin to participate. You're right. Babies and young children most certainly cannot hold up their end of adult conversations. However, if we tweak the definition of "conversation" just a bit, we find ourselves in a whole other ballpark, and it's one where conversations between baby and adult are not only possible, but necessary.

Let's start with that definition tweaking that I mentioned earlier. I spoke of conversation as being a sharing of ideas, and that is certainly one aspect. However, conversation can also be thought of as a give and take interaction, where people respond to on another. If you look at conversation in that way, suddenly you have an activity that baby can join in with. Even the youngest babies quickly learn to respond in turn when the adults "converse" with them.

For some parents, these nonsensical conversations come quite naturally. They fall into a natural rhythm of give and take with the little one. Other parents, for whatever reason, cannot seem to get into the groove. Perhaps they are naturally quiet, or maybe they just feel a bit silly talking to someone who can't talk back. Maybe they truly don't realize the importance of this simple activity. It's so important that all parents should make an effort, though. Here's how you do it!

Choose a time when both you and your little one are feeling fine and when you do not feel rushed. Like all conversations, eye contact is very important in conversations with baby. Position yourself so that you can see baby's face and eyes and so the little one can easily see you. Smile and use an engaging, pleasant tone. Now, make a comment! Nearly anything will do. You can say something about what you and baby are doing together, talk about what you can see in the world around you, or ask a question. It doesn't really matter how serious or silly it is, but be sure to keep your tone pleasant. Don't talk politics if you find the subject upsetting!

Once you've started the conversation, wait. Baby is quite likely to respond to the sound of your voice in some fashion. Your answer may come in the form of a gurgle, a coo, a squeal, a wave, or a wiggle. In other words, take anything baby does as a response. That's your cue to take your turn by making another comment. And you're off! Each of you will respond in turn and baby will be talking for real before you know it.

Talks with your baby are vital! In the next installment, we'll talk about exactly why you should keep these silly and apparently meaningless conversations going regularly. For now, just practice and know that you're doing something really important!

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