Talking with babies and toddlers: why more talk is better
Talking with your baby or toddler can help their language and communication development. The more you talk with your baby or toddler, the better.
This is because parents who talk a lot to their young children use many different sounds and words. When children hear a lot of words and many different words, it improves their understanding of language. It also increases the number and variety of words that they understand and use.
And it’s not just about better language skills. Talking with babies helps their brains develop and can help children do better at school when they’re older.
What kind of talking is good for babies and toddlers?
Talking with babies and toddlers doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can talk to your child about hanging out the washing, preparing meals or whatever is happening around you.
For example, you’re outside with your child and they point to a tree. You could say, ‘It’s a great big enormous tree, isn’t it? I wonder what kind of animals live in that tree? Maybe a possum?’
The sing-song voice that many grown-ups use around babies is called ‘parentese’. It sounds a bit like this: ‘Helloooo babbeeee, who’s a widdle baaabeeee?’ Babies prefer this kind of talk to normal grown-up conversation. So go right ahead if you want to use parentese to talk to your baby.
How much talking is good for babies and toddlers?
Any and all talking is good for your baby or toddler, so try to talk as much as you can during the day. You don’t need to make a special time for talking.
Babies and toddlers like quiet times too, so if your child stops responding to you and starts to look tired, restless or grumpy, you might like to choose another time in the day to talk.
Your child’s temperament might also affect how often they want to communicate with you. Some babies and toddlers are naturally more outgoing, and others are quieter.
When to start talking with babies?
It’s great to start talking with your baby as early as you can. In fact, from birth your baby absorbs a huge amount of information about words and talking just from listening and watching you talk.
Conversations with your baby might feel one-sided to begin with. But even though your young baby doesn’t have words yet, your baby will be listening to you, and they’ll try to join the conversation! They’ll use crying, eye contact and listening to communicate. Later on, your baby will coo, smile, laugh, make more sounds and move their body to communicate with you.
If you pay attention to your child when you’re talking, you’ll notice this early baby talking and communication.
By communicating back and forth with your child in a warm and gentle way, you’re creating and sharing experiences together. This strengthens your relationship with your child and helps your child learn more about the world at the same time.
Tips for talking with babies and toddlers
You might feel silly having conversations with a baby or a toddler who’s not talking much, but keep at it! Conversations and activities that include some of the ideas below are good for developing your child’s language skills.
Tune into your child
- Reduce distractions. Turn off the TV or computer or do whatever helps you to just ‘be present’ to talk to your child.
- Notice what your child is interested in, ask a question or make a comment, and then give your child time to respond. For example, at bath time you could say, ‘Is that Ducky? Ducky’s swimming. Splash!’
- As your child learns to talk, give your child time to find words for their ideas and really listen when they talk. For example, try not to finish your child’s sentences, and make sure your child is finished before you talk. This sends the message that what your child has to say matters.
- Use natural pauses. Your child will eventually fill in these pauses when their language develops. This also teaches your child ‘give and take’ in a conversation.
- Talk to your child about things they’re interested in – for example, what grandpa might be doing today, a story you’ve read together, or something that’s happening outside.
- Talk about an experience you shared – for example, ‘It’s sunny today. But remember how wet we got on the way home yesterday? Your socks were soaked!’
- Use a lot of expression to make your conversation interesting and engaging. What you talk about doesn’t matter as much as how you talk about it.
- If you use complex words, explain them and build on them by using lots of descriptive words. For example, ‘We’re going to see the paediatrician – that’s a special doctor who knows all about babies and children’.
Read, tell stories, sing songs and make rhymes
- Read books and tell stories to your baby from birth, every day if you can. After a few weeks, your baby will know that this is when you enjoy a quiet, special time together.
- Talk about the pictures in books, wonder out loud what might happen next in the story, point out words and letters, and let your child touch and hold the book and turn the pages. You can make up your own stories to go with the pictures in the book.
- Help your child learn that books and reading are fun. You can do this by having a special reading spot, making cuddles part of reading time and letting your child choose some books – even if you have to read the same ones over and over again!
- Sing songs and rhymes in the car, in the bath, at bedtime – even if it’s off-key. Your baby will love the rhythm of the words and will be soothed by your voice. You can check out our Baby Karaoke for ideas.
Your child will also learn to talk by watching how you communicate with others. If you talk in a positive way, your child will learn to speak positively to others. For example, when you’re talking together at mealtimes, you can use positive language like ‘What was good about your day today?’