Tag Archives: babies

The Benefits of Parentese Speech

From Banana for Two, written by Ellen Mayer and illustrated by Ying-Hwa.

What is parentese?

Imagine you and your baby are getting ready to go outside. While you put on their coat and shoes, you speak to them and maintain eye contact. “How is my sweet baby today?” you say. “Are you getting dressed? Yes you are, yes you are! Do you see your shoes? Where are your shoes? There they are! Who looks so handsome? You do! You look sooo handsome!” Your baby giggles and waves in excitement when your tone changes. You mirror their smile and respond similarly when they babble back to you. This communicative exchange may come naturally to you and your baby, but it may be surprising to know you’re actually practicing key elements of parentese speech!

 

Parentese is a type of speech in which a parent or caregiver mixes proper, yet simple, grammar and words with exaggerated sounds and tones to communicate with their baby. This type of speech is used in virtually all languages and is often characterized by repetition, elongated vowels, high pitch, and slow tempo, which are most effective in face-to-face interactions. A strategic use of inflection also encourages back-and-forth exchanges between parent and baby in order to familiarize the child with typical patterns of conversation. Parentese can be spoken to babies as early as six months.

 

While past studies on language development have indicated the benefits of verbal exchanges between parents and their babies, new studies attempt to uncover the significance of tone and tempo.  Dr. Caroline Kistin, a researcher at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, notes, “Parentese also appears to engage infants differently than other types of speech, and the slow speed may afford more opportunities for back and forth conversational turns.” The strategic and intentional uses of tone and tempo that characterize parentese seem to captivate babies in a way that other ways of speaking do not.

 

What is the difference between parentese and “baby talk”?

Parentese and baby talk (also called babble) are both important factors in a baby’s early language development, although they differ in construction. Baby talk is usually defined by silly sounds and wording (like “goo goo ga ga”) that help a baby recognize different phonetic patterns and sounds. An infant may begin producing vowel sounds around two months as a result of their cooing and babbles. Baby talk is useful in developing an infant’s understanding of early patterns of communication, such as emotional tone and attention.

 

When babies are between four and seven months old they may begin to incorporate more sounds and pitches from an awareness of their babble with parents. This is where parentese can further aid in language development. With a familiarity of phonetic sounds and tone, babies absorb more language skills through parentese’s array of strategic tempos, pitches, inflections, and sentence structures.

 

An easy way to think of baby talk is simplifying, while parentese is emphasizing. For example, baby talk may sound like, “Does teddy want wa-wa?” Parentese, on the other hand, might be: “Does the teddy bear want water?”.

 

What are the benefits of using parentese?

While parentese and baby talk can both be positive for babies, recent studies uncover the added benefits of parentese speech, notably its association with improved language outcomes. A 2020 study from the University of Washington suggests that parentese is highly effective because the high pitch and slower tempo serve as a “social hook” for a baby’s brain and encourages their response.

 

Another study from the University of Washington, from 2018, found that when parents participated in a parentese coaching program, their infants babbled more and produced more words by fourteen months than babies whose parents received no direction in the technique. According to parent surveys taken when the infants reached eighteen months, the vocabulary of babies whose parents had received coaching averaged around one hundred words, whereas children in the control group averaged about sixty words.

 

An important secondary finding of the 2018 study is that language development associated with coaching was similar across socioeconomic groups. Previous research suggested that babies from low-income households or with limited access to education would develop language more slowly. While coaching itself may not be accessible to people across socioeconomic standings, there are many online resources to learn more about parentese speech.

 

Surprisingly, parentese has also been found to encourage motor planning in infants. Non-invasive brain scans on babies who had listened to their parents use parentese speech found that both the auditory centers of the brain and the areas for motor planning were activated. This suggests that babies practice the movements to produce speech long before they begin talking (as early as seven months).

 

Tips for practicing parentese speech

  • Make sure you and your baby can easily and comfortably look at each other. It’s helpful for your baby to see your mouth moving!
  • Use words that describe what you and your child are doing together.
  • Let your baby lead and take their cues when they signal they’re listening.
  • Exaggerate the sounds in words to work in baby talk. Speak softly and slowly and extend vowel sounds.
  • Transition between adult speech and baby talk as your converse with your baby. Your baby will start to differentiate when their attention is being called for.
  • Remember the goal is to involve your baby in conversation, even if they don’t understand exactly what you’re saying.
  • Do as much research as you can or become involved with parentese coaching! Studies show that the more educated parents are on properly practicing parentese speech, the more language development skills a child acquires.

 

Many parents naturally use a manner of speaking that incorporates baby talk and parentese. Conducting additional research and to enhance these manners of speaking will serve to improve your baby’s language development and vocabulary. Your engagement is a powerful tool in fostering communication skills in your baby!

Nurturing Positive Development in Quarantine Babies and Toddlers

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

With the world in various degrees of isolation for the last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers are filled with questions on how this could impact their newborns, infants, and toddlers. There is concern that the loss of socially stimulating environments (like a daycare) could stunt a young one’s early language development or their ability to recognize faces or places. This absence also leaves many wondering if an entire generation will be under-stimulated and anxiety-ridden in the future. While it’s still too early for any conclusive research, now is a prominent time to discuss this topic.

 

The Impact of Past Crises on Children’s Development

 

Some researchers have turned to studies of past crises for possible correlations, specifically children’s responses to life-changing events. For example, parts of the Netherlands experienced severe famines in the 1940s as a result of Nazi occupations. Studies show that children born during this time had higher rates of antisocial personality disorder and shorter lifespans. In another case, 30 to 50 percent of children at the epicenters of Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew developed PTSD and a third experienced recurring symptoms. However, most children reverted to the baseline within a year.

 

Many past studies reflect similar findings in which childhood development may be temporarily altered because of a crisis situation without necessarily indicating long-term effects. Such studies are examples of correlation and not causation. After the Great Depression, for example, children who survived with mild or no changes to their development or personhood were from families who financially recovered from the crisis faster than others. The financial recoveries meant parental figures were less hostile, angry, or depressed, which then had a positive impact on their children.

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

Covid-19’s Impact on Infant Development

 

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have already begun conducting their own studies. Philip Fisher, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, sent questionnaires to one thousand American families in April 2020. By the twelfth week, 79 percent of parents with children under the age of five reported their kids were more fussy and defiant than before the quarantine period, while 41 percent were more fearful or anxious. Throughout the study, which concluded in October, Fisher found that the more distressed parents reported being, the more distress they observed in their children.

 

Other studies also reveal that children’s mental health is significantly correlated to that of their parents. The youngest kids, especially, have the strongest bonds with their parents, meaning their reactions to isolation are directly influenced by their parents’ reactions.

 

From Look at You!, by Star Bright Books.

 

Nurturing Positive Development in Isolation

 

The good news is that while child development specialists conduct these studies and explore correlations, they remain hopeful for children! Dr. Brenda Volling, an expert in social-emotional development and a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, emphasizes that infants and toddlers are most in need of stability and loving parental interactions during unprecedented times. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to the needs of your child and adjust support accordingly so as to avoid lingering damaging effects.

 

Here are some signs that your infant or toddler may need more support:

  • New or worsening behavioral problems (such as tantrums)
  • Regression in behavior
  • Withdrawal
  • Difficulty separating from parents or caregivers
  • Sleep irregularities or difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thumb sucking
  • General fear, nervousness, stress, irritability, or hypervigilance

 

It’s natural for young children to exhibit signs of distress in a stressful environment, even if it’s not indicative of long-term developmental effects. Because parental interaction and support is the most significant socialization for infants and toddlers, it’s completely feasible to meet your child’s needs right at home!

 

How to encourage positive development in your baby while in isolation:

  • Reinforce social skills at home—like sharing and communicative exchanges—to replicate what babies would learn through interactions with other young kids. Verbal and physical exchanges help to build language development skills and broader cognitive abilities.
  • Encourage self-directed activities to allow your child to develop a sense of independence in an environment where they’re likely only engaging with people they depend on. Such activities include building with blocks, finger painting, or playing with dough.
  • When coloring or creating art, ask your child if they want to send it to a family member. Making a habit of this will help to foster understanding of and connection with people beyond your isolation bubble!
  • Read books that encourage facial recognition to build your baby’s social and emotional skills. Star Bright Books offers books that encourage self-expression and self-discovery, such as My Face Book; Look at You!; and Babies, Babies!.
  • Without sheltering your baby, try to keep them away from heighted levels of stress. This could mean creating a separate working space at home, taking shifts with another caregiver when possible, or saving difficult conversations for while the child is sleeping.
  • Be careful when teaching caution to avoid instilling fear. When introducing stressful topics like social distancing, it’s important to avoid framing other people as threats.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! If your mental health is being pushed to the side, the stress and anxiety your child observes may impact them. Make time to relax whether it is meditation, yoga, a walk, or something else.

 

The pandemic’s impact on the inner workings and responses of infants and toddlers may not be reflected in concrete research for years to come. The most important way to support your baby is to pay attention to their needs and build your relationship with them. What your child needs most while living through this time of isolation is your love and support.