Talk with your children
© 2009 Roy Benaroch, MD
Language skills are fundamental to success, and speech skills learned in early childhood are strongly associated with later cognitive development. There are many products available that claim to give a child a “leg up” on learning—special videos, interactive toys, flashcards—but a recent study supports an old notion that the best way to help your children learn to speak is to simply talk with them.
In the 2009 study, published in Pediatrics, researchers used small digital recorders worn by about 275 children to determine how many words they heard each day, how much television they listened to, and how many interactive conversations they had with adults in their lives. They also measured each child’s language performance. On average, the children in the study heard about 13,000 words each day.
The number of words spoken to the child was strongly associated with improved language skills, but an even stronger effect was seen with conversational turns—that is, the number of times adults spoke with the child, taking turns in a conversation. Television was a negative predictor of language skills. More time listening to TV correlated with fewer conversations, and poorer speech development.
Speaking to your child is good; speaking with your child is better. Tell stories, interrupt yourself for questions, and allow your child to make up the next few sentences. Encourage back-and-forth conversations. Give your child time to think and respond, and show with body language and patience that you want her to ask questions back. You’ll get some laughs, you’ll learn about your child’s world, and you’ll help your child grow.