10 ways parents can support infant language development
Whether your baby is almost babbling, just saying strings of babble while pointing at something he likes, or seems to be having a chat with you, the emergence of language and communication is how he begins to interact with others and the world around him. Here's a few ways you can support language and communication from birth through 12 months:
0- 3 Months: Gently begin to engage your baby through words, and consider baby's response to your voice.
In these first few months especially, we want to be sure we are helping baby stay calm and regulated, and we want to help bring them back to a place of calm when they are upset. When we begin to engage with baby through words, we want to be sure we are modulating our voices to match their needs in the moment. If baby is sleepy, or resting, or quiet, parents may want to speak softly and gently. If baby is awake and alert and starting to take an interest in the world around them, parents may want to speak in a still gentle, but slightly louder tone, perhaps even with a higher pitch (aka “mothereese").
3-6 Months: Take baby's babbling as intentional and expand on what baby is saying. Begin to read books!
Baby is beginning to make sounds and beginning to babble – first with single sounds (i.e. ma!) and then reduplicated (or repeated) sounds (i.e. mama!). Parents can expand on baby's emerging babbling by adding a sound, a word or a few words to what baby has already shared. Parents should also take baby's babbling as intentional – meaning that they presume the babbling is meaningful. For a parent taking both tips into account, an interaction may look like this: Baby may say “Pa!" when Grandpa is in the room. Mama may want to say “Yes! Papa!" And point to Grandpa while she is smiling. Mama has both presumed babbling is intentional and she has expanded on what baby is saying. Baby feels both validated and pleased and a very positive cycle can continue as a result. This is also a great time to introduce books (though it is never too early)! Reading books together can help promote language development and learning.
6-9 Months: Have conversations that relate to what your baby is sharing.
Baby is now babbling more and is engaging with the world around him in many ways. This is a great time for conversations! For example baby says “bababa" and mommy may respond “bababa?" Then baby might say “ba!!" and mama might say “Really? Ba! Ba!" and on it goes. The goal is to slowly get more and more “back and forths" going with baby – so they say something, you respond, they say something in response, and on it goes. These first “conversations" are immensely important to healthy language and communication development.
9-12 Months: Give meaning to what baby is saying and talk with baby in a meaningful way.
All the tips shared up to this age still apply, but now we also want to give meaning to what baby is sharing. For example baby says “chee!! Chee!!" And daddy might respond “Yes, we're having delicious cheese – it's right here!" We want to talk with baby more about routines, daily activities, and more in simple yet language rich manner that is appropriate for their age.
Additionally, here's two things to keep in mind for all ages of infancy (and beyond!)
- Eliminate technological toys for the very young. Babies do not need technological toys. In their Health Initiative on Media, The American Academy of Pediatrics notes: “A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years [under 2 years of age], and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens." Babies need to learn from and in their environments. It's critical that they not be passive “watchers" of technology, but instead that they are actively engaging in play with real toys and books, and that they are actively engaging (and being engaged) by the people who are close to them.
- Be responsive. It is critical that a baby at any age not be left to “cry it out" or to lay alone for hours on end when they are awake. Babies need human interaction and caring, and they need to feel the reassurance and love of their parent/caregiver. Reassuring baby and holding them close makes them feel safe and allows them to recover more quickly from what was upsetting them (presuming the diaper has already been changed, they have been fed, etc.). If baby feels safe and calm they have more energy left to spend on producing language and communicating with those around them.
Remember that every baby develops differently and the above age ranges are only guidelines. You may find these tips helpful before or after the age range listed. If you any specific language concerns it may be helpful to speak with your pediatrician and/or a pediatric speech pathologist. And don't forget - remember to have fun with your little one!