It has been a few years since we have had a newborn baby in our house. Miss Four and Miss Five are now such chatters, that I have needed to consciously think about how to speak to a tiny little person. This isn’t the time to be teaching them lots of vocabulary skills or asking them questions, but to build the basics of a talking relationship.
These are the things that I have remembered to use with our little man in his first few months…
At this stage, most of your language interaction with your baby is one-sided. They may make reflexive or bodily noises like snorting, grunting, crying, etc. We then interpret them with meaning, and a conversation is born! This is the basis of their later interaction skills, and helps them learn all about your voice and the way you speak. It also helps you not to go mad as you spend hours on your own with a newborn – chat away!
You might feel a bit odd, but it’s important to use a melodic and exciting voice for your baby. It’s called parentese and is used around the world by people to entertain their children. Stop when you find yourself using it with an adult in public…
The first few weeks of a baby’s life are so shocking and confronting – new temperatures, new bodily functions, new sensations. It must be totally overwhelming for them, no wonder they cry so much! On top of the physical comfort we give our babies, we can also add to their feelings of safety by using the same words over and again to ‘warn’ them of what is going to happen. Of course, they can’t yet understand our words, but they do know our voices. And they help your child feel safe as the same thing happens each time. Try:
- 1-2-3-up! – when you are about to pick them up
- nappy off! before you expose them to the cold air!
- are you hungry? lets him know that you are about to feed him
After knowing your bub for a few weeks, you will learn to anticipate some of their small range of emotions: happy/content, hungry, grizzly, tired, etc. Name them for your child – your voice calms them and it helps keep the one-sided conversation going. Try:
- you sound hungry! are you hungry? yum yum yum
- oh, you’re so tired. What a tired girl you are. Sleepy time now
- do you like that? Is that fun in the bouncer? Are you having a good time?
Singing songs to calm your baby is an oldie and a goodie. I have four songs that I sing to my three over and over again – they’re similar tunes and keys, and all lead into each other without too much thought: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Hey Diddle Diddle, Hush Little Baby and Hey Dee Ho. I sometimes add songs to the repertoire, but these are the favourites that they request when they are unwell.
Pick songs you like – you are going to be singing them for many years to come. Remember the movie Sleepless in Seattle? Jonah’s late mother used to sing him Bye Bye Blackbird when he had trouble sleeping. Makes me cry every time!
Help your baby learn people’s names – including their own. He doesn’t know his name yet, so many of your conversations can be as stimulating as “Hello baby Jack, it’s Mummy!” or “Where’s Sarah? Here’s Sarah!”. Name people for your baby when you hand him over: “Here you go to Daddy” or “Do you want a cuddle with Nana?”
These strategies cover the first few months of your baby’s life. I’ll add another update when our little man gets a little older, and share with you the strategies that I have rediscovered for that age group! If you’d like to read more about children’s langauge acquisition, and what you can do at home, I definitely recommend BabyTalk by Sally Ward. Available at Fishpond and Amazon.
PS – For those of you with newborns at home, I found this lovely article at mamaot, full of suggestions about how to make tummy time more fun for you and your baby. If you’re finding it hard to fit in, or that your bub actively dislikes it, then try some of these strategies!