Before becoming a mom, I thought that traditional baby talk was the only way to connect with a baby. By “baby talk,” I mean making up silly or nonsensical words or phrases to refer to everyday things. For example, saying, “Time to put on those wittle shoesie-woozies on those toesies!” instead of simply saying, “Time to put your shoes on!” Little did I know that this doesn’t really benefit the baby in the long run!
Thanks to the magic of Ms. Rachel, I learned about parentese, which I’ve been applying as a now-toddler mom. Basically, instead of making up words, parentese is all about presenting proper language in a way that appeals to an infant: higher pitch, slower pace, and happier intonation.
Here’s what I’ve observed with my son over the last few years of using parentese instead of traditional baby talk!
We encouraged independent play at home from the very beginning, but since we used normal language to speak to him, our son practices his speech by narrating his play. It’s quite amazing to watch, actually! He would be totally immersed in his story for up to twenty minutes at a time, and we would just listen in as he creates the most interesting conversations between his toys.
Mealtimes have also become a lot more fun as he enjoys participating in conversations with us. He’s actually one of the few toddlers I know who have difficulty leaving the dining table simply because he’s enjoying the interaction too much!
We practice a weekly toy rotation at home, which means our son only gets to play with a handful of toys repetitively for a time. At first, we were worried that he would keep asking for new toys regularly; but to our surprise, all he needed were 1-2 key toys, his imagination, and his words!
We think parentese helped a lot in this aspect because he was exposed to grammatically-correct language from birth, which gave him the tools to make his entire playtime a storytelling extravaganza.
When he turned two, we bought our son an emotion chart, which matched each word to a facial expression, to teach him how to tell us how he was feeling. The chart didn’t stick to the usual emotions like happy and sad; it had a pretty wide spectrum which included trickier emotions like proud, embarrassed, and frustrated!
We then modelled the use of those words by labelling our own emotions whenever we would tell him how we were feeling. Today, he’s able to clearly articulate his feelings in full sentences, and in the correct context – which helps us better meet his needs.
Another thing I’ve observed with my son is how good he is at understanding cause and effect. By nature, he is a process-oriented person. Since we like explaining how things work to him without fear of using big or complex words, he’s learned to explain different processes well – from the first to the last step!
Recently, he’s gotten into the habit of identifying potential consequences (a word we taught him a few months ago). He knows what the house rules are, and when we go through them with him, he explains to us what the consequences are for not abiding by the rules.
(Of course, whether or not he actually follows through is another story!)
This is perhaps one of the best things that have come out of avoiding baby talk for me – it’s that my son really enjoys conversing with us. When he successfully tells a story, he knows it, and we make sure to affirm him and let him know he was heard.
Part of our bedtime routine is “talk time”, where we spend 10-15 minutes talking about our day. We ask him what his favorite parts of the day were, and what emotions he felt throughout the day. We’re amazed that he can clearly pinpoint these moments and explain why he did a certain thing or felt a certain way.
Honestly, the benefits of avoiding traditional baby talk go beyond just language development. As a result of using parentese, our son’s imagination expanded, the quality of his playtime improved, mealtimes became memorable, and our relationship deepened!
It also boosted our son’s confidence and self-esteem, knowing that he can successfully communicate with others without the need for much deciphering.
When we combine parentese with healthy parenting and family habits, there’s no telling just how far our child can go. So, newborn and toddler parents, ditch traditional baby talk, practice parentese, and use plain language with them (from birth, if possible). You’ll be surprised how fast they catch on!