FROM the moment your baby belted out that lusty wail at birth, he/she has been talking to you, just not with words. Within a few months, you would have noticed that your baby had different cries for different needs, and made different single vowel sounds. Though you may not have understood it, this was the beginning of language development for your baby.
Consultant paediatrician Dr Anona Griffith says much of speech and language develops in the first three years of life in keeping with brain development.
“Speech starts off with the making of soft musical sounds. It progresses to babbling which is the production of non-specific unintelligible sounds. This, when combined with the baby using gestures, is an important part of language. The saying of first words is a significant and greatly anticipated milestone in every family. This usually occurs between nine to 12 months. Subsequently, language explodes exponentially to a point where the child is able to express him/herself effectively,” she said.
Here are some tips to encourage your little one's language development.
Talk to your baby
“Many parents and caregivers incorrectly maintain the perception that babies do not understand when spoken to; however, this is far from the truth,” Dr Griffith said. “Speaking to babies is often spontaneous and second nature and should be done.”
She advised that you ensure that you speak to your child in adult language and not “baby talk”, so they can have a clearer understanding of words.
Don't know what to say? You can narrate what you are doing to your baby as you go about your day. Tell them what you are putting into the pot, why you are changing their diaper, and what you did at work today. They may not understand everything, but they are absorbing how you speak and storing away some of your words to use later.
Read to your baby
“Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime,” said the American Academy of Paediatrics.
This means that you will not only be helping them to talk, but you will also be giving them a head start for academic success.
Sing to your baby
Even inside the womb, babies are extremely responsive to music. Studies have shown that singing to babies keeps them calm for a longer time. As Dr Griffith pointed out, early speech for babies consists of soft musical sounds. Singing to babies mimics their own sounds to them and introduces and cements new words in their memory.
Singing for your baby does not have to be pitch-perfect. You can use popular nursery rhymes, or make up your own. Your baby will love your voice, regardless of what or how you sing.
Listen to your baby
“Children enjoy being heard and thrive on being celebrated when they speak,” Dr Griffith said.
“As such they must be taught early that what they have to say is valuable. Allowing them to speak allows you to correct grammar, teach the appropriateness of certain conversations, and learn the thought patterns, needs and desires of your child. It also builds relationship and trust, and teaches effective communication.”
Not all babies will be very chatty, and that's OK, Dr Griffith said.
“A quiet child does not equal a child incapable of speaking, but rather speaks to the temperament or personality of the individual.”
She recommends that you still encourage your child to express him/herself by asking questions, but not try to force them to give up who they are.
Observe your baby
Every child develops at his own pace, but there are general timelines that prescribe what a child should be able to do at a certain age. If you notice that your baby is lagging behind on language milestones, it could signal a hearing, speech or developmental problem. Dr Griffith says you should express any concerns you have to your child's paediatrician, and consult the Child Health and Development passport that was issued by the Ministry of Health to every Jamaican child since 2010.
— Candiece Knight