newsletter banner 740

Helping babies learn to talk

Woman playing peek a boo with babyOne of the most exciting moments for you and your baby is when she is able to say her first word.

As a dad, I’m very proud to say that I managed to help my children say “dad” as their first word. But even beyond the first words, how do we help our little ones to continue developing their vocabulary?

The importance of words

One of the main early predictors of a child’s intelligence and future success in school is the amount of vocabulary he develops. Being able to communicate with words is also a very important predictor of success in managing emotions and creating and maintaining positive relationships with others later in life.

Babies are listening and learning from the start

Even before birth, babies can hear sounds and are learning about the world around them. The more you talk, sing, and read to your baby about what she is seeing, doing, and feeling, the more words she will understand and eventually speak.

Typical child vocabulary development

Every child is different, however, most children speak their first words around the time they are one year old. Between 18 months of age and two years they should be able to incorporate at least 50 words to their vocabulary. By age three they should have at least 500 words.

How to promote talking and vocabulary

  • Just do the talking: From the time he is born, talk to your baby about what you are doing as you do it and let him know what will happen next so he knows what to expect (“It is time to change your diaper so I am going to pick you up now”). Talk to your baby about his feelings and actions too.
  • Have conversations with your baby: Have a back-and-forth conversation by repeating your baby’s coos and sounds and waiting for her to respond or imitate your sounds. Put words and meaning to her sounds and let her know her communication is working, “It looks like you are interested in that ball over there. Should we go get it?”
  • Sing songs Make up songs about your routines and what you are doing during the day. Your voice is one of your baby’s favorite sounds, so no need to worry if you are out of tune.
  • Read books at home, the library, on the bus, and everywhere you go. Let your baby explore and mouth the book and decide when she is done looking at a book. Make up stories about the pictures and use silly voices to make reading fun.
  • Pointing is an important first step in language development. Watch what your baby is pointing at and tell him the words for what he sees.
  • Reflect and expand: This means repeating and expanding on the words that your child produces. For example, if your toddler says, “Gin down” you might respond, “Oh, you would like to get down from the couch?”
  • Ask questions, but allow enough ‘wait time’ for a response before asking again. It may take your toddler a few seconds to find the word he wants to say.
  • Praise your child for using words to communicate, instead of just pointing or crying when wanting something.
  • Make words fun through play. Have fun while talking and also introducing new words to describe an object. Games such as peek-a-boo or handing a rattle back and forth help babies learn the back-a-forth rhythm of conversation.

What to do if my child is having trouble talking

If you are concerned that your child is having a difficult time speaking or understanding words, consult with your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider.

Dr. David Anglada-Figueroa is a clinical psychologist with a passion for families and children and a spokesperson for First 5 Sonoma County. First 5 encourages parents to Read, Talk, and Play every day with their babies. For more information, visit first5sonomacounty.organd