What is the best way to support a baby’s budding language skills?

You may be surprised to learn that responding to your child’s interests during simple everyday activities is the key to language development.

Researchers at Puckett Institute, a nationally recognized child development research center located in Asheville and Morganton, recommend these strategies to best promote healthy language development in your baby.

Learn What Your Baby Loves. Pay close attention to what really interests or excites your baby. Ask yourself, “What makes my baby smile and laugh, what does my baby work hard to do, what activities does he return to again and again?” These are the opportunities where your child will be most likely to communicate.

Support Your Baby’s Interests. Identify which of your everyday family activities provide good opportunities for your child to explore her interests. If she loves to make sounds by banging on things, for example, increase her opportunities to do so by giving her a wooden spoon to bang on a pot while you’re fixing dinner, an empty paper towel roll to bang on her highchair tray, or two blocks to bang together while riding in the car.

Follow Your Baby’s Lead. Let your child make the first move when doing something he loves, rather than bombarding him with commentary, questions, and directions.

Pay Attention to How Your Baby Tries to Communicate. Notice your baby’s communicative attempts while she’s doing things she likes to do. Long before they master words, babies engage in many nonverbal social interactions; it could be a look, a gesture, or a vocalization.

Respond Promptly and Warmly. When you notice your baby doing something to seek your attention, respond promptly and warmly, using simple words, gestures, or maybe just imitating him.

Keep the Conversation Going. Use simple words, gestures, or imitation to communicate back and forth with your baby. Respond to his excitement about going somewhere, comment on the splashy play he loves at bath time, or take turns trading sounds as you change a diaper. If you respond to his signals as if they were meaningful communication, your baby will learn the fun of the back and forth exchanges that are the foundation of later verbal conversation.

Use “Parentese”. Match your baby’s verbal pace, level of excitement, and animation by responding in the simplified, exaggerated, and repetitive voice that research has shown to be most effective in engaging babies. “Ooh, you are sooo hungry today!”

Tuning in to your child’s interests and giving your heightened attention and responsiveness to your baby’s earliest communicative attempts during simple everyday activities will pay off as language blossoms and becomes more complex.

By Debby Genz, M.Ed. Debby has worked with children and families for 35 years. She has a Masters Degree in Child Development. Currently she is a Research Associate with the Orleana Hawks Puckett Institute (www.puckett.org), working with the Center for Everyday Child Language Learning.