Babies are born communicators. In fact, before your own little cutie even utters her first syllable, she is already talking to you—with her facial expressions, her coos, her cries, and giggles.
Think about it: When she “chats” with you in that adorable baby-style, you listen. And you “talk back” to her when you nurse her, change her diaper, play, or respond to her other needs. That’s the start of a dialogue unfolding.
While little ones follow their own unique timetable for talking, there are things you can do to to boost your baby’s budding language and conversation skills. To start, try these tips:
- Get up close and personal. Make eye contact, smile, touch, and use animated (but not scary) facial expressions to grab your baby’s attention. Encourage other family members to do the same. This nonverbal communication is a first step toward language development.
- Babble. Just do it. Keep talking—while you share a meal, change a diaper, bathe him, take a walk, or drive to Grandma’s. The more you chat, the more words your baby will learn.
- Stretch your words for emphasis. It may sound weird but elongating your vowels when you say, “How’s my little baaaaay-beeee?” and “Whooo’s my sweeeetie?” helps boost language skills. This is called infant-directed speech. It’s more varied in pitch than normal conversation. It’s also slower, it emphasizes important words, and it captures baby’s attention.
- Play follow the leader. Take advantage of all the fascinating new sights and sounds around him. If he likes cars, introduce words like beep-beep, honk-honk, go, stop, and others. When you see puppies in a book, ask, What does a puppy say? Then thrill him with a gentle Woof, woof! Add more sounds as he becomes familiar with other objects and animals. Aim for interaction and imitation.
- Of course, few moments are more thrilling than hearing your little one form the first clear mama, dada. Watch for these opportunities to enhance his language development along the way:
Zero-to-three months. Listen for soft vocalizations. If your baby has been fed and looks rested, quietly engage her. She’s too young to understand what you say but she is learning to identify your voice.
Three-to six-months. When your little one babbles and coos, babble and coo right back at her. Follow her lead. Think of this as baby-style conversation.
Six-to-nine months. Start a dialogue. Look in a mirror together and say, Who is that? Then use your child’s name and add, It’s Michael and Mommy! Help your baby link words to objects. If you have a pet cat, say,Where’s our kitty? Then look for your animal friend together.
Nine-to twelve months. Have fun with language. Emphasize new words, including nouns such as eye, ear,mouth, and nose. Try an interactive game like Show Me, as in Show me your eyes, knees, head, and fingers.Sing songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” If your baby hesitates, encourage him by saying, “Here are your hands” (while you hold them). If he gets it right, cheer and applaud enthusiastically. He doesn’t have to point to earn kudos. If he wiggles his feet, that counts!