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How to Stimulate Your Baby’s Language Development

A beautiful, smiling mother reclining on a bed and playing with her baby, Horizontally framed shot.

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

How exciting it is to bring that new baby home from the hospital and what awesome responsibilities you are assuming as new parents! You are helping your new little one develop in all ways, physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually. It doesn’t help that babies come without a manual for guaranteed optimal development!

An interesting study appeared recently (December 23, 2015) in the Pediatric JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association.) It is called: “Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication.” Many parents are under the assumption that the new electronic toys are quite beneficial for their baby’s development. These electronic toys, such as baby cellphones, baby laptops, talking dolls or farms, and e books are marketed heavily as both educational and as useful for promoting baby’s language development. The study proves that this is not so. Assuming that parents participate during playtime with their babies, the electronic toys provided so much feedback to the baby, the parents did not talk as much to their baby. The verbal interaction between parent and baby decreases, in part because the digital gadgets take over! Many times the parents sat on the sidelines, allowing the electronic gizmo take over as the entertainment. The toy was providing feedback to the baby, such as when the baby pushed a button, the toy lit up or made a noise. The baby was motivated to repeat the action. In effect, the toy took the place of the parent. What is lost with this type of baby-electronic toy play? Language development and parent-child communication suffer. 

Traditional toys, such as blocks, puzzles, hard page books, dolls, trucks, etc. provide parents and babies the opportunity to interact more creatively. There is more of a verbal give and take, and parents were found to respond more to their baby’s actions and utterances. These reciprocal interactions result in both cognitive (thinking) and language learning. Parents tend to describe the toy more and react more when their baby acts upon the toy. A toy should allow the baby to do the action, the opposite of what e-toys do because they tend to take over. Parents in the study talked much more to their babies when playing with traditional toys vs. e-toys (parents said about 40 words per minute with e-toys compared with 56 words per minute with traditional toys and 67 words per minute with traditional books.) These results were the same regardless of the age (10-16 months) or sex of the baby, and whether or not the parent was naturally chatty. 

What message should new parents take from this study? It’s important to speak with your baby while you are with him or her. Describe what you are doing when you are changing a diaper, cooking a meal, or taking a walk. Smile and react to baby’s face and gestures and actions. This interactional “dance” between parent and child builds trust, stimulates all areas of development (including language), and helps creates loving, lifetime bonds.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at mc333@cornell.edu.

 

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