One of a parent's greatest fears is finding a problem they can't fix. When your babies aren't verbal, and all you have are a few projected milestones to gauge off of, a silent little one can raise your alarm bells. But you don't have to take them to the doctor straight away. Instead, learn how to encourage your baby to talk with these different methods.
How Parents Can Help Their Babies Learn to Talk
The best thing you can do if you find that your infant isn't hitting their verbal milestones is to not panic. Redirect that anxiety into something actionable by trying out these different methods for helping your baby talk. Remember that milestones are averages and all kids are different.
Even if your little one isn't at any of their language development milestones yet, you might be wondering how you can begin teaching language skills that help them meet those milestones. While there might not be a one-size-fits all approach for helping your baby get a good start with their speech, these easy-to-implement tips can help.
Stay Close to Your Baby as You Talk to Them
One way to encourage baby talk, especially in those early months, is to actually speak in your baby's line of vision. It's easy to forget that a baby's eyesight is still developing, and one way you can spark their interest in sounds and how the mouth creates sound is by getting close to their face and speaking to them where they can really see you.
Model Conversations for Them
Babies want to replicate what their parents are doing. It's why they'll start waving after watching you wave time and time again. The same can go for talking. Simulate a conversation with your partner or someone else with the baby in the room. Pause, and address your baby with a question or their input, and wait for their response.
Even if it's not verbal, signs that they're listening and responding (aka smiles, giggles, etc) can show that they're beginning to catch on to how this whole conversation thing goes.
Learn to Speak Parentese to Your Infant
A new speaking style, coined Parentese for its modulated intonations and speed, has taken early childhood development scientists by storm. Patricia Kuhl, a Speech and Hearing Sciences Professor at the University of Washington, explains that "we know from over 30 years of research… that infants prefer parentese over standard speech, and that infants who are exposed to parentese at home have larger vocabularies as toddlers."
Not only is important that your infant hears a ton of language, but also hears the right kind of language. Parentese involves people speaking with exaggerated vowels, a slower cadence, clear annunciations, and with bigger tones. There are so many digital resources to help you catch on quickly to this style, and if you consistently speak to your child in it, they should start to show some verbal responses.
Use Real Words, Not Baby Babble
Speaking to your baby in 'goo-goo' nonsense isn't helping to spark connections about language in their little brains. So, it's best not to alter your word choices when you're around adults vs. your baby. They're looking to you to teach them the vocabulary they need, so you need to be the source of where they'll hear it first.
Reinforce Language by Matching Real-Life Objects to Words
Infants are supercurious, and they're constantly picking things up, putting them down, and trying to figure out the great wide world around them. Instead of using flash cards, use the real thing in real-time. While your baby's playing with something or reaching for something, tell them what it's called and repeat it a few times.
Don't Wait to Hook Them on Books
Your kids don't have to be able to read before you introduce books to them. Not only is it another way to start making language connections (i.e. written words to sounds and pictures) but it also gives you time that you set aside specifically to talk to your baby. According to a 2017 study, infants who were read to were more likely to have early literacy skills than those that weren't.
Piggyback on Anything Your Child Says
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that you add to any words or phrases your infant says to you. If they say "ma" then you should add on to their phrase with something like "yes, I'm mama." Or, if you're playing with a dog and they say "dog" you can add on to it with a response like "you're right, silly dog." The point of piggybacking is to engage your child in a conversation and model for them how to make longer sentences and more complex phases at the same time.
Just Remember - Always Keep Talking
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you're faced with an infant who's struggling or not interested in verbalizing is to keep talking. Talk to them about anything and everything, and employ these different techniques to see which ones they respond to. Childhood development isn't a one-way street; no one kid's development matches another's. So, start practicing these techniques early and be persistent with them, and you'll likely begin to see results.
If you still have concerns, talk with your baby's pediatrician to rule out things like hearing issues, oral impairments, or processing disorders.