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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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Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

What's the best part of being a mom of five?

The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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