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Talk To Your Child At Every Opportunity

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

A frequent subject among us “older moms “ is the observation that parents with young children are not talking to their children.  Now, what do I mean by that? It seems that the parents are busy talking on their cell phones, or texting or replying to e-mails on their iPhones or Blackberry’s.

I often see young mothers strolling their children around the neighborhood, but the child is in their stroller and the mother is talking away on her cell phone, or listening to her iPod oblivious that this is a perfect opportunity to be talking with her child.

There are so many subjects to talk about while strolling an infant or young child. The sun, wind, flowers, trees, squirrels, lawnmower noises, different colors of flowers, the list is endless. All of these conversations are important to developing language for infants and toddlers.

As you probably know, it is not as important what you are talking about with an infant, but that you are talking, all of the time. As your child is a little older it is important to talk to children about things around them, describing objects and events, and telling them stories. What better place to discuss how squirrels find acorns that might one day become a tall oak tree.

Now that we are the “wired” generation the opportunities to just have idle chatter and conversation with your child seem to be limited. I have even noticed this in my office as parents and their children are waiting for the doctor (I apologize for running late!). In years gone by (now I really sound old) I would walk into an examining room and the mother or father and their child would be playing hangman on the exam table paper, or they might be playing “I spy” in the room, or even playing patty cake or “where’s your eyes, where’s your nose” with a one-year-old. There was interaction and conversation.

Now it is not uncommon for the parent to be answering the phone and texting while the child is “hooked up” to a DVD player watching anything from Baby Einstein, to a Disney movie. I understand that waiting for the doctor is boring and nerve wracking, so that may not be the best example, but the point is the same, interact with your child at every opportunity.

The importance of talking to your children to encourage language acquisition was supported by a recent study in Pediatrics. Dr. Zimmerman, the lead author, looked at not only the importance of reading, and talking to your child to promote language skills, but actually showed that conversing with children is important in acquisition of language.

Not surprisingly, they found that children who had increased exposure to adult speech had higher preschool language scores than children who had greater amounts of television viewing. Interestingly, they also found that preschool language scores significantly improved the more an adult and child conversed back and forth. By using dialogue rather than just talking to children, parents could better foster their children’s developing language skills.

Zimmerman showed the importance of getting back to the basics. Not only is it important for parents to read to their children, or to tell stories and limit television viewing, it is also important to engage their children in discussions, on just about subject. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.

So, the next time you have the opportunity to talk with your child , turn off the hardware and have a conversation, whether it is through babble or a lengthy discussion. We don’t want the next generation to forget that language is an inherent tool for engagement with others.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question to Dr. Sue!

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One Response to “Talk To Your Child At Every Opportunity”

  1. Barbara says:

    I cannot tell you how many times valuable conversations have occurred between me and my children in the car. Be willing to tolerate moments of silence and your child might initiate the discussion.

    I’ve often wondered how many hours of parent child interaction has been removed from our society with the use of school buses.

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