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Talking to your toddler boosts their IQ as pre-teens, says new study

It may seem like you are talking two different languages, but the act of conversing with young toddlers does wonders for developing their verbal skills—in ways that pay off for years to come.

According to a study published this week in the journal Pediatrics, toddlers between the ages of 18 and 24 months who participated in a great number of "conversational turns" had significantly greater verbal comprehension and expressive vocabulary scores than a control group of peers up to 10 years later.

What's more, chatting with toddlers could predict up to a 27% positive variation to their IQs as preteens.

"We were expecting to see correlations based on the previous research with younger children, but can't help but be astounded that automated language measures collected at 18 months can predict anything 10 years later," study author Jill Gilkerson, senior director of research and evaluation at the LENA Foundation, a non-profit charity in Boulder, Col., tells the CBC. "It is nothing short of remarkable, in my opinion."

For the study, researchers began taking daylong audio recordings of 329 Denver-based infants and toddlers in 2006. Using Language Environment Analysis software to "quantify adult word exposure, child vocalization (CV), and turn-taking interactions throughout the day on the basis of algorithmic analysis," the researchers charted the amount of language the children were exposed to relative to their peers.

For the second phase of the study, the researchers followed up with the families when the participating children were between the ages of 9 and 13. At that time, 146 of the original children participated again in verbal comprehensions tests and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.

By looking at trends across the two phases, the researchers found that parents have the greatest impact on their children's verbal development when the child is between the ages of 18 and 24 months—a time known for "exploding" verbal skills. Not only did the interactions help boost the children's verbal skills at the time of toddlerhood, but they also predicted better verbal and intelligence scores 10 years later.

"Importantly, these correlations remained significant after adjustments for SES (socioeconomic status) or child language development," the researchers say in the journal. "Suggesting that the impact of increased early interaction on long-term developmental outcomes extends beyond the influence of socioeconomic factors and child skills."

What does this mean for parents of toddlers?

Narrate what you see and do. Ask them questions. React to their verbalizations... There truly is no downside to it. As Harvard researchers previously shared, the "serve and return" process in which you respond to your child's sounds, is instrumental in building baby's brain architecture.

Writing previously for Motherly, pediatric occupational therapist Ashley Thurn said another one of her favorite ways to encourage language development with young toddlers is to imitate the desired speech.

"When your child makes a gesture, or cries and whines and you know what it is that they want, imitate the speech that you desire them to say," she says. "For example, if they are asking for milk by crying, say, 'Oh, you want milk! Say milk please!' Even if your child doesn't say it initially, continue to repeat the verbal command at least three times before giving it to them."

In the short-term, it may help you and your toddler understand each other. In the long-term, the latest research shows it continues to have positive effects.


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