Last week I was in a well known department store shopping for a birthday gift when I noticed a new mother with her infant son in a stroller. It was so meaningful to see her having a conversation with her baby. She pulled a dress off the rack and held it up for him to inspect. “What do you think of this one Sam? Not bad, huh?” Her baby gazed thoughtfully at it from his stroller. A nearby salesclerk gave the mother an amused glance. “Do you really think he understands?” “Probably not,” agreed the mother, smiling.
I could tell from the look on the mother’s face and her frowning that the clerk had made her feel foolish. I approached the mom and told her that I could tell he loved the dress and I thought it was wonderful that she was having conversation with her son. She told me that her son’s caregiver was always going on about the importance of talking to babies, but maybe it didn’t really matter. After all, Sam certainly couldn’t understand words at five months. She said that “other than trying to coax a smile out of him, why bother?” I told her that conversation with her child was crucial. I told her that I have been in the early childhood field for almost 30 years and I could assure her that talking with your baby was going to make a huge difference on so many levels. She thanked me for my kind gesture and I reassured her that she should buy the dress because Sam had given a long series of squeals and I was sure he loved the bright colors.
I was driving home and I kept thinking, what do babies think when adults converse with them? In fact, a word-for-word translation of a five-month-old’s thoughts on conversation might read something like this:
I wish I could tell that store clerk a thing or two. I do care if you talk to me! Learning to talk is a two-way street. You know what I mean: one of us starts, the other answers; then the first person says something back, and so on. I’m catching on to that pretty quick, even though I don’t use words yet. So what if my conversation consists mostly of a couple of gurgling sounds, a few fancy arm maneuvers and that toothless grin you seem to like so much? You always answer! And that’s the thing that lets me know I’ve got the hang of it.
Besides, I like the sound of your voice. When you talk to me it lets me know I’m a real person. I am a person who is loved and respected and definitely worth talking to.
So, if you are a teacher in an early childhood program, a family child care provider, a new mom, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle or the casual shopper in a department store… speak and smile to babies! Small talk is important. Also, remember these important tips:
- Hold and cuddle your baby while you’re talking. Look into his or her eyes. Your baby needs to hear you talk in order to learn to talk himself.
- Give your baby lots of time to respond when you say something.
- Imitate the sounds you hear your baby make. Some day he or she will be able to make them back to you as a game. Eventually he or she may even start the game.
- When you see your baby staring at something, tell her what it is and move closer to it.
- Watch your baby’s reactions. If he or she turns their head away or seems tired or upset when you’re talking, they are letting you know they have had enough for right now.
- Never quit smiling. A smile is worth a thousand words!