Smart Parenting for Busy & Imperfect People

Summons to Speak More & Speak Well

A young child’s ability to verbally communicate is closely correlated to his intelligence and future “success” in life.  A 2-year-old with verbal abilities akin to a 3-year-old will not always be the best and the brightest later in life, but in many cases she will find scholastic and social tasks to be much easier than a child with fewer verbal abilities.  Nature contributes significantly to a child’s verbal acumen, but nurture also play an important role.  This article will focus on how parents can nurture their child’s verbal abilities.

Verbal Skills Study

A influential study conducted in the 1990s compared the quantity & quality of words a mother spoke to her child to the quantity and quality of words that the child spoke as various ages within the first several years of life.  The study then compared and contrasted the mother-child pairs based upon socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.  Mothers with professional backgrounds spoke considerably more words to their children and used more complex sentence structures and vocabulary.  Mothers who received welfare, spoke fewer words and used more simple sentences and words with their children.  Even in cases where the mothers on welfare used a plethora of words, the children were still found to have diminish vocabularies, due in part to the mothers using simple sentences and vocabulary words.

Applications

The recommendations by the research team from the above study suggested speaking frequently to children, but even more importantly, they urged parents to not simplify (or dumb down) their sentences and words too frequently.  There are, of course, exceptions to this recommendation.

The importance of “motherese”  (high-pitch voice parents often adopt when speaking to their babies) cannot be overlooked in the first year or two of a child’s life.  Motherese has been shown to have positive effects on a baby’s language and socio-emotional development.  Therefore, do not feel as though you must speak to your baby as your would to your CPA.   Simply, continue to adapt your sophistication of communication as your child grows.   Using dramatic and expressive language and body movements is exciting for babies and toddlers.  Just remember to add in more complex forms of speech and vocabulary when possible.  As a child grows, focus on speaking clearly, with eye contact, and using “real” words and grammatical sentences.  Instead of greeting your baby saying, “Howz whiddle boy?”.  You can say, “Son, how are yooou to-day?” with a big smile and bright eyes.

Toddlers comprehend simple words and sentences better than more complex forms of speech, so save your simple speech for when you need it most- during discipline.  “NO TOUCH STOVE” (in a low, deep voice, said while giving eye-contact) has a higher chance of sticking with a 18-month-old than, “Ahhhh! Don’t ever touch the stove!!!  You’ll burn yourself!!”.

Instead, use normal, calm moments (trip to the market, morning walk, etc…) to develop your child’s speech.  Describe your thoughts and experiences and ask your child questions.   Speak clearly and slowly, while pausing to allow your child to process your words and respond to you.  Face your child so they can see your expressions and perceive your emotions.  Use gestures so that they can grasp contextual clues to aid their comprehension.

When possible, use the correct word for objects.  For instance, call letters “the alphabet” instead of  “ABCDs”.  Make the assumption that your child can learn to communicate well, but he will not do so perfectly and he will make mistakes.  Children will also create their own words for familiar objects.  Let them use their made-up words and you use your adults words.  Never force or shame a child into using  adults words.  They will eventually choose to use the socially acceptable word, when they are developmentally ready.

Children are much brighter than we assume!  Just because they can’t speak as well as we do (yet), does not mean that children and babies cannot infer our intended meaning and learn from our normal patterns of adult speech.  Parents, speak more and speak well to your children!

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