The most important bonding you can do with your baby is the simplest: talking and listening. You may think because they cannot talk, that they cannot respond, but you will be surprised how quickly they start trying. Just make sure you listen and really give them time to join in, in their very own little way. It will begin with lots of eye contact, then smiles and squeals of delight.
By the time your baby is 12 months old they will probably have a few words that family members recognise, important things like ‘milk’ and ‘more’. You can accompany those important words with a sign and you may find that your baby will communicate with a simple sign long before they can sound out the word. In time you will have your very own little chatterbox and those precious and often hilarious conversations can begin with your toddler.
Chatting builds brains
Babies learn using their senses. So every experience that they have does something in terms of developing neural pathways – the pathways that build up in their brains. Within the first year their brains become three times heavier than when they are first born. The brain cells actually become heavier the more physical connections that they make. So you should start talking to your baby the moment they’re born. It’s very important since they recognise your voice from having heard it in the womb so it’s a reassuring sound. They can tune into it straight away.
Some parents may feel that because they’re not getting communication in return, it is a waste of time – this is a misconception because amazing things happen. Babies love hearing your voice, having your attention and being spoken to. Even just keeping up a running commentary about what’s going on – for example, “Look, I’m getting your bath ready, there is your rubber duck ready for you to play with.”
Babies are very sociable and they really need that kind of interaction. Chatting is a huge part of bonding and creating relationships. Your baby will feel very valued and loved if you talk to and include them all the time.
Baby talk or ‘motherese’
‘Motherese’ is the term for the way that parents speak to their baby. It has a higher pitch, with high inflections, sounding sweet, sing-songy and questioning – a bit like the way people sometimes talk to their pets!
Baby talk is a very important part of early nurture because you are repeating the sounds that your baby makes or starting to build on the sounds that your baby makes. Or if you’re having a conversation, it might be just that you are responding to sounds but you are doing it in an engaged and exaggerated way. The great thing is that motherese comes very naturally. You will even see little children playing mummies and daddies talking to their baby dolls in this way!
Babbling begins at around five to seven months and babies will even happily babble to themselves. Their voice boxes are starting to descend and it is like they are practising with their voices. You will hear lots of “baa, baa, baa, daa, daa, daa.”
The way that babies babble is very universal, so wherever you are in the world, you could be in China, ancient Egypt thousands of years ago or in Ireland today and a child will babble in exactly the same way. It is very much the beginning point of how a child begins to communicate.
Later on babies tune in to the language that is spoken around them and start to develop that language. Young children are so receptive to languages they can learn more than one language fairly easily. In contrast, we know as adults it is much harder for us to learn a foreign language. This change occurs around seven years old. So if you speak two or three languages, don’t be afraid to use them all.
A good tip is for one parent to speak one language, the other parent to speak another – and maybe Granny to speak a third. Having different people speaking the languages helps avoid confusion. If you do use different languages, remember to sing in that language too, since the rhythms will often be very different.