Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Baby Talks

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We're all home schoolers

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I'm a talkative person. And I'm the mother of a three-month-old. Sometimes being the parent of a preverbal child is hard, and being without adult interaction throughout the day can wear me down.

Maybe it's partly due to my background as a nurse, but I can't help interacting with Daniel like I would any of the adults I've cared for who are unable to communicate with me verbally (and also who may or may not be able to understand what I'm saying). I tell him everything I'm doing to him; I explain why I'm leaving the room if I have to go away for a moment; I engage him verbally when he coos at me; and most importantly, I assume he can understand me.

I believe that even though perhaps my son doesn't understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, he does read my tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. And I think there's a lot of understanding that happens between a mother and her child. I read his cues and respond to them in turn. If he's acting hungry, I will ask, "Are you hungry? Would you like to nurse?" and I offer my breast. (I'm also starting to introduce a handful of ASL signs to promote our future communication.)

It seems to me that he can also understand when I'm making a request of him. In his first week, we were having some trouble with getting a deep enough latch, and I would say, "Open, open, open!" to Daniel as he was trying to get latched on. More times than once, I would say, "Open, open, open!" and he would open his mouth very wide and before latching on, would turn his head slightly to the side and look up at me, as if to say, "Like this?" or "See, Momma, I'm doing it!"

I talk to my infant constantly, and I talk to him in regular adult language and complete sentences. Sometimes it feels a little silly, like when I'm wearing and talking to him while walking around the grocery store. But most of the time I just boldly and confidently have conversations with my kiddo. When describing every little thing I'm doing starts to feel tedious or artificial, I either make up a song about it or I sing a song that's relevant to what we're doing. For instance, I regularly sing "The Hokey-Pokey" during diaper and clothes-changing time, and I sing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" when we're getting up for the day. (I know a lot of show tunes.)

I do it to promote his language development, but I also do it because I want to show him respect. I want him to know that he is important and valued and his young age doesn't make him inferior to others. I do it because it's what I would want someone to do for me if I wasn't able to communicate verbally.

I talk to Daniel about everything. I've explained crosswalk laws, how plants are pollinated by bees, homelessness, body image, friction, and weather. I discuss plants and gardening, going after your dreams, deodorant vs. antiperspirant, what we're having for dinner, interpersonal relationships, sex, drugs, (rock 'n' roll!). I've explained the importance of looking people in the eye when they speak to you—even if you don't think what they have to say is very important—and how it's never too late to learn something new. Sometimes I'm inspired to write about the advice I give him when we talk, and sometimes the conversations come and go just as any other interaction with a family member would.

Another goal with all this talking is that I'm trying to get used to talking to him about difficult things and make those things not taboo. I'm sure I will change my topics to be more age-appropriate as time goes on, but I will not use "baby talk" with him. If I need to use a big word, I will explain it like I do now.

I also talk to him so much and explain things in great detail because I want to promote a deep curiosity in him, and because it's always ok to ask questions—it's a great way to learn new things! I hope he'll never feel like he's stupid for asking questions, because they really only make us smarter.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I LOVE that! What a great start you’re giving your son through the way you talk with him and treat him with such respect. Wonderful for language development – and life in general!


  2. i love your blog!

    as a teacher of 1 - 3 year olds in an immersion program in japan: i can affirm Baby Signs work! we use it with children who have started to learn english after they're a year old - so the language they're used to is Japanese, but the signs really help the children understand the second language, and are learning the basics of ASL - a third language!

    it's brilliant - i so recommend it.

    incidentally - sign language is totally different country to country. never knew that before...

    thanks again!x

  3. I really love that you see your baby as a person, that you want to give your baby respect while he's still so tiny. One of the objections that I hear over and over when I talk about gentle/respectful parenting is that "our kids are too young, they don't know any better, they don't understand reason." That is so untrue - people simply don't give children enough credit! The love and respect you show your child is going to be a great asset for both of you in the future.

  4. I love how well pre-verbal children communicate, and it is wonderful that you don't underestimate your child. :)

  5. I remember how long that preverbal phase lasted, even though now it's astonishing to me we went so long without Mikko talking! ASL signs helped sooo much, so I recommend it, but don't get discouraged by how long it takes for him to sign back. Just as he's absorbing everything you're saying, he'll be absorbing those, too, and be able to sign back to you a lot earlier than speaking, which is so gratifying!

    I love your attitude of respect and think it will pay off in spades. I can just imagine you and your son chatting away with each other in the future!

  6. I love this. I did it with all of my kids, because I just never could do the baby talk. Once in a while, I would hear another mother say, "Ta ta Mummy" (which apparently means "Please give that to me") and I was baffled. How did they even learn that?

    We started the conversation when they were born (including signs), and it continues. We have three very verbal children who can express themselves clearly and continue to consider language to be a plaything as well as a tool.

    One of whom is currently calling for assistance!

  7. So love that you talk to your baby as a person. I've never understood the need for baby talk, start as you mean to go on is my philosophy.

  8. Ohh! *LOVE*

    I have ALWAYS talked to my children as if they were able to understand- straight from birth. And you know what? I have very wordy kids. :) They have major vocabulary skillz- straight from when they say their first words! Good job mama!


  9. i love this; i talk to my son the same way, and i've actually been stopped in the grocery store by a few older ladies who want to tell me how nice it is to see someone wearing rather than pushing a baby and speaking to him normally. also, the first time he signs back to you: AMAZING.

  10. i also never "baby-talked" with my daughter and i think having her hear the "regular" conversation helped her acquire a vast vocabulary. she can talk about anything and everything! and oh.. baby signing helped too! we are fans of signing time :D

  11. I've done the same with all of my children. Big fans of ASL here (and no baby talk).

  12. I really can relate to how you approach life with Daniel. I found myself saying as I was reading, "I do that too." It's really important that we talk to our children and I agree that they understand us and have their own little ways of showing us that they do. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  13. Your post has struck a chord with many people! I love that you approach your baby with respect and empathy. So beautiful. As a profoundly NON verbal person myself, I find it exhausting to talk as you describe, although I definitely admire it! Constantly talking to my infants is a skill I had to learn, and the reason I learned it was because I believe it is so profoundly important. For many reasons you have stated (and then you stated some I hadn't thought of but totally agree with!). Thanks for writing this. Communication is so incredibly fundamental to who we are, and how we stay sane. xo.

  14. This reminds me of a time many years ago when a friend asked me why I spoke to my kids like they were little adults, LOL! I never thought about it...baby talk just never felt natural to me.

    I ended up with four very articulate children, and the conversations continue to this day. Kudos to you for laying a terrific foundation of respect and communication with your son!

  15. Right on! As a momma of 2 I can attest to the benefits of talking and talking and talking to your kiddos! My daughter has a great vocabulary and my son (14m) is sooo good at telling us what he wants and we are perceptive to understanding what he means. I think it's so cool that you are teaching sign language, it REALLY does work! And it's a great way to help our little ones tell us what they want before they can talk...saves a lot of frustration and tantrums too!

  16. No baby talk here either! I never felt the need to baby talk to both my kids but I have to admit I am not the chatty type! I wish my kids (6 yo and 21 mos) had a mute option sometimes! I feel like Melissa lol!

  17. I think what surprised me most while I talked talked talked to the Critter during his early months was the funny looks I'd get from some people. But how else was he going to learn language?

  18. I'm exactly the same as you on this. I talk to my daughter all the time, and I get quite defensive when people think it's silly. I wear her too, and I'm always talking to her about what we see and where we are. I love having this 'communication' with my little girl and I'm certain it's why she's so developmentally advanced for her age.

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