29 September 2009

"Hang up the cellphone and talk to young children"

In today’s New York Times, Jane E. Brody has a column entitled “From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk.” Brody reminds us that communication begins as soon as a child is born. She writes: The way you touch, hold, look at and talk to babies help them learn your language, and the different ways babies cry help you learn their language. According to the American Medical Association, parents should talk to their babies whenever they have the chance… “your calm, reassuring voice is what he needs to feel safe. Always respond to your newborn’s cries – he cannot be spoiled with too much attention.”

While we often stress the importance of language in the home for early child development, Brody points to the negative effect of electronic distractions on today’s parenting. She writes: “all too often, the mothers and nannies I see are tuned in to their cellphones, BlackBerrys and iPods, not their young children.”

What difference could this possibly make on child development?

According to Randi Jacoby, a speech and language specialist, “Parents have stopped having good communication with their young children, causing them to lose out on the eye contact, facial expression and overall feedback that is essential for early communication development. Young children require time and one-on-one feedback as they struggle to formulate utterances in order to build their language and cognitive skills. The basic skills are not being taught by example…”

Ms. Jacoby advises parents to: “Reward your little one’s communicative attempts with your heightened attention to his/her conversation. Be prepared to put down your cellphone and look them squarely in the eye as they share their thoughts with you.”

What would effective parent/child communication look like?

Jane Brody reviews several guidelines for parents:
• Avoid baby talk and baby words, which can confuse a child who is learning to talk. If your child uses a baby word, repeat it, but also use the correct one.
• Play word games like “This Little Piggy” or “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and encourage your child to do the accompanying motions.
• Count the steps as you go up or down.
• Ask questions that require a choice, like “Do you want milk or juice?”
• Sing songs and recite nursery rhymes.
• Read together every day, and ask your child to name or describe the objects and characters in the story.
• Above all, when your children try to talk to you, give them your full attention whenever possible.

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