Mellow Mummy: Did You Talk To Your Baby? : Taking life as it comes...

Thursday 7 April 2011

Did You Talk To Your Baby?

I'll admit that I never chatted to Lara when she was simply a bump inside my belly but I did start the minute she was born – to me, the simple act of talking to my child was instinctive - it was the only way I could engage with and learn about the new stranger in my life.

I clearly remember my 6-week health visitor appointment. She arrived holding my first Bookstart pack and was expecting to have to preach to me about the importance of reading to young children. Lots of new parents don't realise how the words and sounds that they share with their baby from a very early age contribute to their child's speech and learning ability. For me, it didn't need much explaining. When the health visitor came into my living room, she was a taken aback to find me reading out loud to Lara the instruction manual from my brand new laptop that had been delivered that morning. It may sound bonkers to be reading out the usage guidelines for your DVD drive, or the operating instructions for a web-cam, but really, at 6 weeks old, the words didn't matter to Lara. What did matter was the eye contact, the sounds and tones of the words and phrases I used and, most importantly, the interaction with me. Lara looked into my eyes and knew I was laughing with her at the sentences I read. She responded with wide open eyes. It was great fun and we both enjoyed it.

Talking to, and with your baby is an incredibly important part of your child's start in life. I find it hard to put into words how strongly I feel this. Can you believe that a recent survey by the National Literacy Trust as part of the Communication Trust's 'Hello' campaign found that as many as 1 in 5 parents don't see the necessity to communicate with their baby during the first 3 months and that 1 in 20 parents think that communicating with your baby is only necessary once they turn 6 months old?

If I hadn't chatted with Lara during those first 3 months I would have been a very lonely mummy. As it was, Lara and I had a ball together. I know that I was talking to her (it was instinctive) and it is demonstrated by the following inescapable truths...

  1. When I used to take Lara out in the buggy I would often give her things to hold or grab and say “there you go”. I probably said those three words far too often because, alongside 'peppa pig', 'doggie' and 'daddy', one of the very first word noises Lara made when she was about 8 or 9 months old was “dehroohgo”.

  2. Lara was given a horse-shaped rattle when she was born. We called it the 'clip clop horse' and would make the sounds and talk to her about it often when she was on her play mat or in her pram. Many many months later, when the rattle had been packed away as a 'baby toy' we were on holiday in Switzerland and were all flabberghasted when Lara, hearing the noise of a horse's hooves trot down the street, announced that there was a “clip clop” shortly before the horse came into view (at which point her eyes lit up!).

These may seem like little things but they are proof that every little moment you spend talking to, or reading to your baby can make a difference.

I know that talking to a baby isn't instinctive for many mums and dads. Lots of new parents feel self-conscious about talking to their baby. It can be a big step for people who had previously only been used to adult company to start jibber jabbering away to a baby who they know can't talk back. On the Talk to Your Baby website there are some tips on how to get communicating with your child (they call it TLR, Talking, Listening and Responding).

Talking to your child can fit easily into your daily routine. Why not:
  1. Recite a nursery rhyme while feeding your baby

  2. Talk about the things you see while you are out and about

  3. Describe what you are buying while you are in the shop

  4. Sing songs while you are bathing your baby

  5. Share a book with your child before bedtime

The most subtle of the TLR concepts that the National Literacy Trust mentions is 'Responding'. I realise now that this is also the most powerful. How do you think that a child as young as 12 months old learns to ask a question? How do they learn to communicate pain? To tell you they're tired? To let you know what they want to eat or drink? All of these things require them to communicate with you, but for them to know the right way of communicating requires you to responds appropriately. In the past fortnight, Lara has learned that saying “No, Mummy” with the emphasis on Mummy is far more effective than just barking “No” at me. This must have come from the different ways to which I respond to each of these statements. It never ceases to amaze me how clever toddlers are!

I've make a pledge on the Talk to Your Baby website to continue reading bedtime stories to Lara, even on the busiest of working days. I love sitting with her as she 'reads' books to me, but I still feel there is value in me reading slightly more advanced books to her as she can learn from my words as she drifts off to sleep. You can make a pledge too, here.
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