Tag Archives: thirty million words

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Chatter Matters: Why it is Important for Parents to Talk to Children

The following message is a guest blog from Sallie Page-Goertz MN, APRN. Sallie is the Medical Director of Reach Out and Read KC, and she recently gave a two-part presentation called “Parent Talk” about why it is important to engage in frequent, high-quality talk with young children. Her presentations were so informative and well-received that we would like to share that same message with you!

 

Babies love to hear your voices.  While in the womb, they heard your voices, as well as those who were around you!  A fascinating study had women read to their babies before the birth.  After the birth, babies listened to recordings of their mother and recordings of a stranger reading the same story – they were much more interested in listening to the story recorded by their mothers, a familiar sound!

 

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Photos courtesy of Reach Out and Read National Center.

For children to learn to talk, they have to hear lots and lots of talking.  The first 3 years of life are the MOST sensitive for development of later language skills.  If babies do not hear lots of conversation, they lose an opportunity for developing strong connections in the brain that help them to communicate.    When you talk to your baby, connections between neurons are formed that will help them learn to speak.   Research tells us that the more words children hear between birth and three, the more words they know at 18 months of age and at 3 years of age. Sharing a book with your child is one way to get these conversations going!

 

 

The way we talk to young children influences how they think about themselves, how they learn to regulate their behavior, and their willingness to try hard, and keep trying when learning new skills.  For example, in the grocery store – one could tell that running child to “Stop, behave, you know you’re not supposed to run” or, one could say – “hey stop running and come help Mommy find the red apples that you like so much – let’s see if you can put four of them in the bag!   Thank you for being a good helper”.  In the first example, the child is chastised for unacceptable behavior, but doesn’t learn what might be acceptable.  In the second example the child is told what they are not to do, but also told what they can do, and further are given an opportunity to learn about color, and counting and helping.

 

Another example – the preschooler is working on putting a puzzle together – it’s hard for her to find the right spot for some of the pieces.  In one scenario, her caregiver shows her exactly where it goes, she puts it here and is told “great job”. The child is pleased to have the help, and continues to look for that help.  An alternative scenario, is that the caregiver suggests puzzle skills – look at the pieces with smooth edges, and see which ones will go together, or think about matching colors on the different pieces.  The caregiver encourages the child to keep trying different pieces until she finds the right ones.  Praise is given for trying again and again, rather than for being successful!   In the second scenario, the child has learned a lot more – about puzzle making, but more importantly about not giving up when things seem too hard.

 

Dana Suskind’s book, Thirty Million Words:  Building a Child’s Brain, has lots of great ideas 30-million-cover-hi-rezto think about when being in conversation with your children.  She presents the research that explains importance of being in conversation with children in an easy to read and understand way, and reminds us of the impact that our conversations can have on children, both negative and positive.

 

Bottom line, words matter, and the more words a child hears, the more prepared they are to communicate and to learn as toddlers, kindergarteners and adults!

 

So, go talk to your baby – watch how she reacts to your voice, to your singing.  Even though she won’t talk back with words for many months, she talks back with her eyes and her expressions to let you know that she is definitely listening and learning.

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The Consequences of “Second-Hand Screens”

We all know how frustrating it is to talk to someone who is distracted by a mobile device, but did you know that it can also pose a potential developmental risk for infants? Reach Out and Read National Center recently posted an article by Dr. Robert Needlman, ROR co-founder, describing the parallels between screen-focused behavior and Ed Trunick’s “Still Face Paradigm.”

 

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Click to watch a video of the Still Face Experiment

The Still Face Paradigm comes from a series of studies by Dr. Ed Trunick. In these studies, each mother would interact with her baby by cooing, gesturing, and touching, back and forth. Then, on a signal from the research team, the mother would become still faced, no longer interacting with her baby.

 

Dr. Needlman describes the baby’s reaction, “The baby’s response, at first, was to act even more adorable, as if trying harder to recapture the mother’s interest. Then, when the mother remained impassive, the baby would become angry, crying in rage. Then, when even that failed, the baby would slump back, defeated, looking depressed.  Babies whose mothers actually did suffer from depression did less flirting and protesting. Instead, they skipped right to “defeated.” It was as if they knew – had learned – that mother wasn’t to be counted on as a partner. These babies protected themselves by investing less emotional energy in the exchange, building walls against closeness and disappointment.”

 

Dr. Needlman explains that this still-faced behavior is much like the behavior of a person who is preoccupied by a mobile device: They remain impassive, show little or no facial expression, and do not actively interact with those around them. This may be appropriate at times, and smartphones have many advantages that are hard to give up. However, screen focused behavior is something to be mindful of, especially around young children. Like second-hand smoke, second-hand screens may pose a risk to those other than the user.

 

 

30-million-cover-hi-rezDr. Dana Suskind makes a similar point in her book “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.” In this book, Dr. Suskind lists three guidelines for improving a child’s brain development:

 
1. Tune in to what the child is interested in and respond to that interest.
2. Talk more by engaging in frequent and high-quality speech with the child.
3. Take turns by letting the baby participate and responding, back and forth.

 
Sound familiar? These behaviors are much like what the “Still Faced Experiment” mothers did before they were instructed to make their faces blank. Of course, you can’t effectively “tune in” and “take turns” when engrossed in content on a screen, which is why Dr. Suskind adds a fourth guideline: Turn it off. As in, turn off distracting devices when spending time with your child. Besides we can think of a fun activity that doesn’t require any screens: Reading a book!