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Language Development Begins Early in Child’s Life

Did you know that language development begins long before your child can say “mama” or “dada?” Even though babies cannot yet understand what is being said, it is important to talk to your infant. Talking, singing and reading to your baby help him recognize sounds that are important to his later language development.

Talk to your baby while you feed him, bathe him and diaper him. Tell him what you are doing. Point to his eyes, ears, nose etc., calling them by name. Show your baby pictures of family members and tell him their names. Point to objects in the room and tell him the name of the object. (Example: light, window, chair, etc.) Whether or not you realize it, your baby is learning sounds that will later become words.

As your child gets older, consider these keys to language and communication development:

*Be sure to get your child’s attention before speaking to him. Call your child by name first. Give him a few extra seconds to respond. Remember that young children are not able to quickly shift their attention away from something that interests them. You will know you have your child’s attention when he makes eye contact with you. If he doesn’t respond, go over to him and speak to him at eye level. Touch his shoulder and repeat his name gently.

*Once you have your child’s attention, speak simply. “Put your blocks away, wash your hands, and come to dinner” is asking your child to remember three different things. Young children (and some of us adults) have short memories. It is hard for them to keep in mind more than one direction at a time. Say something like, “Daniel, it’s dinnertime. Please wash your hands.”

*Be specific when making requests. “Don’t leave your toys on the floor” or “Pick up your toys” are directions that may not be clear to a young child. “Put your blocks back in the toy box” is a message that offers your child detailed information about what he is to do.

*Make important demands respectfully, but firmly. Consider this question, “Would you like to come in for lunch now?” We adults understand this as a polite way to say, “Come in for lunch.” However, the message your child may hear is that he has a choice as to whether he comes in to eat now. If you are not offering your child a choice, it is better to say, “Please come in for lunch now.” Be sure you do not offer your child choices you are not willing to let him have.

*Set a positive tone. Use more “do” phrases than “don’t” phrases. Saying, “Hold your cup with both hands” is more helpful than saying “Don’t spill your juice.”

*Talk with your child frequently. Ask questions about your child’s activities and ideas. Listen carefully to what he tells you. When you listen to your child and try to understand how he thinks and feels, he feels valued and respected. You will benefit, too, by knowing that you are building a foundation for a good relationship with your child.

For Release: Week of 02/17/04

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