Do conversations with toddlers work?

Published: February 14, 2019 11:16 AM EST
Toddler offers parent a cookie. (Ivanhoe Newswire photo)
Toddler offers parent a cookie. (Ivanhoe Newswire photo)

You’ll always remember the first word your child blurts out; whether it’s Mamma, Dadda, cat, dog, or ball. Then in what seems like no time at all, your toddler is forming phrases and sentences. Now, scientists say parents have the unique and critical opportunity to help sharpen their child’s language skills in the very first years of life.

For Oscar Puerto, reading gives him time to bond with two-year-old Odin and six-year-old Rose.

“She tries to read everything she sees and tries to spell this and that,” Puerto said.

Science now shows us strong vocabulary skills start years before; as early as a child’s first birthday.

Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, PhD, a developmental psychologist at NYU, detailed, “That’s when children transition to saying their very first words. Then they go through an explosion in vocabulary.

Tamis-LeMonda studied 40 pairs of infants and their mothers, recording daily activities, paying close attention to the amount, diversity and content of mom’s conversation, especially responsive language.

“So it would be if I said you looked at the cup, I’d say cup, that’s a cup, just as the baby touched it,” Tamis-LeMonda said.

Tamis-LeMonda said families who had a high level of responsive conversations, or conversations where parents follow up on the child’s lead, had babies who spoke their first words before 11 months. Families who did not, had children who didn’t speak until around 18 months. Researchers say parents should talk to their toddlers during everyday activities. While dressing, talk about the clothing and how it goes on. Talk about food and utensils.

“As parents are talking to children it’s not just that children are acquiring vocabulary,” Tamis-LeMonda said. “They’re acquiring connections among those words.”

Tamis-LeMonda said with practice, and as children get older it will become much easier for parents to elicit words, phrases, and eventually stories from them, which is important for school readiness.