Friday, September 23, 2005

Conversations with Baby: The Why's

Last time we visited the subject of conversing with your baby, we covered how to manage this. I gave you a quick how-to guide for talking with a little one who couldn't talk back. I promised that this time around I would tell you exactly why you should be doing this apparently nonsensical thing with your child.

So what's the big deal? Why go to all of the trouble of contriving conversations with someone who cannot yet talk or with someone who speaks in single word sentences? Why bother, especially if this doesn't come easily or naturally to you? The best reason is because it is very good for baby. Your little one will get a head start on learning language, which is a gift you can ill afford not to give. We need to do everything in our power to help children learn as much language as they can as quickly as they can. Nearly all later learning is founded on langugae, and this simple activity can help ensure that most children learn these necessary skills. It *is* important, and here is a run-down of how it will help your baby.

Young children's brains are hard-wired, so to speak, to learn language quickly and efficiently. Their brains are receptive to the kinds of learning necessary to master language in infancy and early childhood. Not only do they have a phenomenal memory for new words, but they also can quickly learn the rules of language, such as syntax and grammar. You don't hear sentences like "Me go" for very long in a young child's vocabulary because they rapidly learn that this isn't quite the way to say it. They lose words like "runned," as well when they learn that not all verbs add the -ed ending for the past tense. No, they won't be able to put it in those terms, but they can and do learn to apply the concepts. And they do all of this by listening to conversations around them and those directed at them. No special teaching is necessary for most children who are developing normally. But if you provide them with numerous opportunities to hear language being used in conversation, you give their brains lots of material to work with, to learn from, and to form generalizations about. The more you talk to them, the faster they can learn about language!

And conversation teaches other things, as well. Children learn social conventions from your practice conversations. They learn that it is important to maintain eye contact with the people you are speaking with. They learn that conversation has a give-and-take rhythm. They discover an early lesson about taking turns with others. The baby also learns the beginnings of not interrupting the conversational partner. Babies learn about making and maintaining eye contact. They discover and imitate facial expressions. The learning just goes on and on when you take the time to converse with your little one.

Babies gain emotional confidence from conversations, too. By taking the time to "converse" with your nonverbal baby, you are setting the stage for the expectation that you will listen later on when baby really does have something to say. You send the message that your baby is important to you. That's pretty powerful! It forms the foundation for healthy emotional development.

So, now you're running out of excuses. You can no longer claim that you don't know how to begin a conversation with your baby or that you don't know what to say. You can say ANYTHING! You can't say that you don't know why it is important to talk to your little one, either. It builds language and social skills and lays a foundation for sound emotional development. What are you waiting for? Go talk to your baby!

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