I have five golden rules for baby talk. You know, that incessant discussion we have with our infants that feels a lot like talking to yourself? There’s a lot of research to suggest that what you say and how you say it has a significant effect on baby’s later performance in school, for example. So, before you say “goo goo gaga” one more time, let me explain a little more.
Rule 1. Talk to your baby as much as possible.
Talk to your baby as much as possible. Some believe that this interaction starts in utero, while others say it starts the day baby is born. A child needs to hear the sounds and intonation of their native language in order to learn them. They also need to hear it from you – not from recordings, radio or television. So talk to your baby, read, or just keep up a running commentary.
Rule 2. Say things that are true, meaningful and appropriate.
Say things that are true, meaningful and appropriate. Whether or not baby understands what you are saying, there is at least one person who is listening to every word – yourself! Between providing bubs with a “babble channel” and the sharp reduction of adult conversation which is unavoidable in early parenthood, you don’t have the time or capacity to have a separate internal intellectual life.
Your baby-talk becomes your self-talk. What you babble to baby is (or becomes) exactly who you are. If you only babble meaningless drivel, this will crowd out the thoughts you could have been having if you were silent. So please, babble at great length about your politics, opinions, how things work and the meaning of life.
Rule 3. Don’t be sarcastic, rude, cruel, patronizing or in any way disrespectful to the child.
Tone of voice is perhaps more important than the actual content. When you explain something to a child, they will often respond to the tone of voice alone. However, creating that tone without the appropriate words is incredibly difficult, but creating it with the words is pretty much automatic.
Habit-based behaviour is essential to building the capacity to parent effectively. Thinking is incredibly resource-intensive. Parents can’t afford to risk our children’s safety on the assumption that we will notice a critical moment or have the time and energy to think about the issue when it comes up. We are constantly pre-empting situations, controlling the environment and bedding in habits. Therefore, the only rational baby-talk habits to develop are ones based on the assumption of the child understanding what you are saying.
Don’t be sarcastic, rude, cruel, patronizing or in any way disrespectful to the child. Do I even need to explain this? It’s about the habits we form. It’s about self-esteem. I hope this is pretty obvious.
Rule 4. Be beautiful, positive, prolific, imaginative, loving, kind, generous and clear.
Songs and rhymes are great. There is plenty of room for nonsense rhymes along side your more intellectual babble. Love of language, as developed in this way, is an important basis in the child’s learning to read.
Rule 5. Use correct language and grammar.
Use correct language and grammar rather than bastardised language or “in” jokes. And yes, this is harder than it sounds, as common language is very lazy. But if you can manage to use correct language with your child is young, she will have this fantastic resource of being able to access what “sounds” right, without ever having to explicitly learn the rules of grammar.
I didn’t just wake up one morning wanting to write out the rules of baby talk. This topic came upon me when a friend who was visiting me started talking rubbish to my six-month-old. It upset me, and I had to write out my thoughts in order to understand why. So, having written it out now, I hope that this clarity is beneficial to more than just me.
Are you nodding at how self-evident my rules are, or wondering if I’m a bit daft? I’d love to hear your thoughts.