Yes – I’m that parent. The one shuffling through the produce section of the grocery store, picking out her choices with the same level of excitement as an Astros fan watching Game 7 of the World Series and offering an intimate play-by-play narration to her baby boy nestled in the grocery cart.
“I think we need some Granny Smith apples. What color are these? Green! Let’s count out our apples, 1-2-3-4!” I do all of this because I know I can make my baby laugh when I count in a funny voice. I also do this because talking to him helps with his brain development, and allows us to connect with each other.
I know it might seem silly to facilitate conversations with babies who probably don’t understand exactly what you’re saying, but research has consistently proven that quantity and quality of parent-child interactions are critical for babies during the first months and years of their lives.
I want to emphasize the quality of these interactions, too. Even though a lot of videos, games and apps are educational in content, there’s really no substitute for direct, human-to-human interaction with your baby. This allows for more “serve and return,” as we like to call it, in your interactions. You’re engaging with your baby, who responds back with coos, facial expressions, eye contact and other noises. It’s important to tune into these behaviors and respond to their vocalizations and gestures.
When you’re talking with your baby, you’re laying a foundation for effective communication skills and building important connections in your baby’s brain.
If you don’t have much experience interacting with babies, there are many interactive strategies to use while your baby’s brain is growing the most it ever will. Consider these tips:
- Describe comfortable settings that might be new to your baby, like going on a walk in the park, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, riding the bus, etc.
- Sing to your baby regularly, with or without music in the background.
- Get on your baby’s level and use “parentese” or “baby talk,” because babies respond well to direct eye contact and exaggerated changes in your voice.
- Read with your baby and describe pictures on the page – it’s never too early to start, even during pregnancy!
- Let your baby play with books and follow their lead if they want to turn a page; or, pick a different book.
- Visit your local library in search for free educational programs for parents and babies.
Research indicates the most important part of raising smarter, happier babies is talking more with them. In an effort to improve communication between parents and their babies and to enhance children’s health and developmental outcomes, Texas Children’s offers the upWORDS program for parents with children younger than 24 months of age. This program aims to educate parents, using LENA Start™ curriculum, on how early exposure to language can positively impact a baby’s brain development.
Children from low-income families are statistically exposed to fewer language-building opportunities, and therefore might not be as developmentally prepared as they could be. Texas Children’s Hospital has been awarded a grant from Kohl’s Cares to expand the upWORDS program to reach underserved families in Greater Houston at no cost.
So, be that parent – the one in the grocery store, shopping aloud with your baby and building their brain! If you’re interested in joining or learning more about the Texas Children’s upWORDS program, click here or email upWORDS@texaschildrens.org with your contact information.