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Reading and Talking to Your Baby

By Erica Martin, M.D.

When children are young, their brains grow and​ develop at incredible rates. By the time they are 1 year old, they will have learned all of the sounds that they need to develop language skills and vocabulary in their native language.
It may feel a little strange talking to a baby who doesn’t know how to express what he or she is thinking, but your child is absorbing every sound, word and facial expression you make.

How to Talk to Your Baby

Since your child cannot respond, it may be difficult to carry on a conversation; but at this stage of life, it isn’t what you say that matters, just the fact that you are saying something.
  • Narrate what you are doing. For example, “I’m pouring my cereal now.” Or, “Let’s go get daddy’s shoes.”
  • If your child points to something, name it and have a conversation about it. You might say, “Yes, that is your sister’s coat. Do you like how bright and pink the coat is?”
  • Talk back when your baby is making sounds and give him or her time to respond after you’ve spoken. This not only teaches how conversation works, but also allows your baby to practice language skills.
  • Use repetition. Repeating words helps familiarize your baby with key concepts.

Though radio, TV and recordings are forms of verbal communication, these outlets are not substitutes for talking to your child. They do not allow an opportunity for dialogue and emotional exchange.

How to Read to Your Baby

When you first begin reading, your baby will not understand or express interest in the concepts of books. However, reading is an easy way for you to work on communication skills and bond with your child.

  • Read throughout the day. Your baby may not have a very long attention span, so read a few times a day and keep reading sessions to a few minutes in length.
  • Don’t feel constricted by the words on the page. If your baby is pointing or reacting to a certain element, use that as a conversation starter or tell your own story based on that character or place. For example, if your baby points to a cat, you might say, “Yes, look at the cat. The cat is walking on the fence with his friend,” and carry on from there.
  • It doesn’t matter if you finish the whole book. Much like with talking, it isn’t what your child is hearing, but rather, the fact that he or she is hearing something at all. If your child is delighted by certain pages, spend more time talking through those pages.
  • Use expression in your sentences and unique voices to differentiate between characters.
  • Allow your baby to participate when possible. From birth until 4 months, your baby will be more interested in the colors and patterns of the book’s pictures. From 4 to 6 months, your baby may start touching the book and putting it in his or her mouth. After 6 months, your child will begin to understand the concept of reading. He or she may help turn pages or point to certain characters or pictures.
  • Pick durable and exciting books. Cloth books can go anywhere (including the tub) and board books allow for easy turning. Consider buying books with unique elements (like felt, small mirrors, etc.) or pop-up books.

Benefits of Talking and Reading to Your Baby

  • Talking teaches your baby about communication early on and primes his or her brain for language development.
  • Talking helps you bond with your baby.
  • Reading allows you to teach concepts like shapes, colors, numbers and letters in an exciting way.
  • Reading to your child establishes a happy connection between what he or she loves most (you) and reading.
  • If you read to your baby before bed, you can begin establishing a bedtime routine at an early age.
  • Children who are read to are more likely to pick up the ability to read at a timely age.