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11:44 AM

Talk to your baby now to help her IQ later

Why the words you use with your baby or toddler will matter as they get older

Buzzwords such as ‘baby flash cards,’ ‘apps for babies,’ ‘baby tech toys,’ ‘TV shows and videos for babies bombard parents through our media-saturated universe. These buzzwords tempt parents to seek new and various ways to help their babies develop and learn speech, language, thinking and reading. Did you know that 25 percent of babies less than 2 years of age have televisions or DVD players in their bedrooms? (David Walsh in “NO and Ways Parents Can Say It). Though high tech options are enticing, brain science tells us that children from birth to 3 years must have input from parents talking to them.

How do we know that parent-talk builds children’s brains? A study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” showed that by age 3, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds heard 30 million fewer words than children from prosperous backgrounds. This disparity of 30,000,000 words heard had effects on children’s IQ and test scores by the time they were in third grade. Why is this important? All children have the right to full access for learning; to grow their brain; to learn to talk, read and write. What parents and caregivers do and say has a profound impact on a child’s development.

Dr. Dana Suskind, a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon at the University of Chicago recently released her book Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain. At the center of her program are the “Three T’s.”

  • Tune In
    • What does your baby/toddler like to do? Let’s say your little one is super interested in those pots and pans in your cabinet but you would rather baby play with the ball. Think about helping baby explore those pots and pans: making noise, pretending to stir, wearing the pan as a hat, etc. Make it all about baby’s interests.
  • Talk More
    • What are you saying to your baby? For example, “Come over here and get this” could have many meanings. A richer language example could be “Walk to sister and get the ball!” By using ‘walk, sister, and ball’ baby hears specific words instead of more non-specific words (‘here’ and ‘this’). By using specific, rich language, baby’s vocabulary increases. We learn to talk based on what we hear. I often encourage parents to ‘be a thesaurus’ – constantly increasing the complexity and richness of their language.
    • Another tip is to teach verbs, verbs, and more verbs. Verbs carry far more meaning in communicating than nouns. For example, the word ‘drink’ will result in more action from parent than ‘milk’. Baby says ‘drink’ parent says, “Oh you want a drink? I have milk, juice, water, ____”. If baby says, ‘milk,’ parent says, “Here’s some milk.” ‘Drink’ can be paired with many other words as children start stringing words together: drink more, drink please, drink milk, drink all gone, drink spill, drink hot, etc.
  • Taking Turns
    • From the moment parents meet their new baby, communication begins. Babies coo, giggle, scream, cry, and babble to communicate. Parents then respond with sounds, words, and actions. These early interactions are the beginnings of conversation. As very young children start using words, listen to what they have to say. The more you talk back and forth with them, the more words they learn. The more words they learn, the better readers they will be.

Talking to our babies and toddlers is something we can all do to help babies’ brains.

What can we do as parents and professionals to close that Thirty Million Word gap for all children? How can you use Dr. Suskind’s “Three T’s” strategies to grow your child’s vocabulary?

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