Your child learns fast before he even begins to talk. Billions of brain cells already exist, and during his early months, he starts building pathways between them. That’s how he learns. Follow three rules to encourage his brain to develop during his early months and give him a head start in language skills by offering him:


• a safe environment;


• opportunities for enriching experiences;


• close attachment to you.


Safety
Reduce your baby’s stress by helping him feel secure. Respond when he cries, make sure he feels safe and introduce a routine, so he knows what is going to happen. If he feels stressed and anxious for a long time, his brain produces high levels of cortisol. This chemical is fine in small doses, but too much of it for too long appears to slow brain development. A calm baby can learn more easily.


Keep sound levels low and avoid sudden bursts of noise, movement and action. Use quiet, soothing music and gentle voices to relax him and help him sleep, building a secure routine that makes him feel safe. Let him sleep when he needs to.


Opportunity
Offer him new experiences, one at a time. Take him with you on trips to buy groceries, talk to him as you change him, dress him and play with him. Use the times when he’s awake and alert to introduce him to new experiences, so he can build on his knowledge over time.


Repetition matters to your baby, as his brain establishes new pathways, so include familiar things in his day as well as new ones. Try a daily walk in the park, or round the corner, so he can experience a mix of regular and new events. Talk about the things you see and hear together. Name his clothes, his food, parts of his body, animals and cars in the street.


Play with him, kneeling down and getting close to him, playing baby games and singing together. Every experience is new and interesting, and time spent with you is the best of all.


Attachment
Enjoy the unique relationship you have with your baby. Learn to recognise his needs: see if you can recognise how his hungry cry differs from his tired cry, for example. You won’t get it right all the time, but fulfilling his needs just one third of the time is enough to build a bond. A baby learns most in his first year from one adult, who he spends time with and grows attached to.


Make sure your baby learns to trust you, by being reliable. You may not be with him all the time, the when you are, give him your full attention. Ensure that anyone who cares for him when you are elsewhere understands the importance of responding to his needs.

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5 thoughts on “Smart Kids: Three Ways Parents Help Their Child Talk and Learn

  1. This is all very sound advice, of course, but in retrospect I think I would have liked to be more aware of ‘warning signs’ in very young children, rather than simply focusing on recommendable activities for parents. I noticed that health-visitors and professionals would be obsessively attentive to charting my daughter’s weight (even recommending I feed her butter to boost it) but neglected to spot she was not making sufficient eye-contact, or engaging in sound and action imitation. On the other hand, push this attitude too far and it can easily turn into scare-mongering. It’s s tricky line to tread.

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  2. Hi, I agree,it's hard to get the balance right. Most kids just need safety, attachment and opportunity though parents may need some help with providing the right type of opportunities, hence the blog and ebook. However, 10% or so of children have difficulty in developing language and need extra help. I guess the best way for parents to sort out how their child is doing is to keep an eye on checklists, like the one on this blog (Check His Progress). Interested to know more about how you handled your daughter's communication issues?

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  3. Sorry Fran, didn't see this reply until just now. Put very briefly, I flagged my daughter up as a concern just before she hit 2 years old, and it took 2 further years of STRENUOUS effort to get her diagnosed as ASD. I never did manage to get an official diagnosis on the verbal and oral dyspraxia, even though both of her speech therapists agreed that this was the case and treated it accordingly. This of course hampered the very important effort in getting a Statement of Educational Need – which itself came through when she was four and a half years old, two and a half years into the effort. Shortly after this we moved overseas in any case, and by that time I had personally addressed the situation and early intervention had mitigated the medical prognosis of possibly decades of therapy and specialist schooling to fully-functioning integration into a mainstream school. I understand that there are insufficient resources to give every child individual daily speech therapy. What I don't understand with the system in the UK is why parents are not given the guidance they need, directly from the health professionals, to enable them to address the problems their children face. Had I not had the time and inclination to research the matter the implications for my daughter's level of functionality would be horrific. As it was I purchased the Nuffield Dyspraxia Programme and went through it with her at home on a daily basis. After acquiring the basic sounds, we continued with building sentences and vocabulary. The Nuffield course only took three months to complete, with about 15 minutes per day (plus other 'play' intervention tactics which were slipped in during the course of everyday activities). I chose the Nuffield because that is what her therapist was familiar with, but there are of course lots of other systems out there. Early intervention and delegation of the 'therapy' process to parents and carers would, I am sure, work very well in the vast majority of households. Every parent wants their child to prosper and lead as full a life as possible, and if that means 15 minutes of following a speech manual a day I cannot think anyone would baulk at giving up this small amount of time. The issue is that people are not told what to do, but rather sent on endless appointments by a string of specialists who barely know the child, for years on end. I cannot imagine what benefit this system is meant to be aimed at, as it drains the taxpayer's money to absolutely no avail, and leaves children growing up into troubled youths and ineffectual adults, a further drain on the economy. The mere process of going through the application for a Statement of Educational Need costs the taxpayer over 8,000 pounds. You can see a video of how my daughter's speech was before intervention here. She was about three years and a quarter years old at this time. In October of that year we started the Nuffield, and by January of the next year her speech was understandably to the average listener. … Sorry this comment is so very long! Hope it helps someone 🙂

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  4. Hm… sorry about that, the link didn't seem to translate from Word so here's the link to the video of Lara a few months BEFORE intervention… that is, intervention on a daily basis at home. She'd already been having all available speech therapy intervention for the past year and a bit. http://www.youtube.com/user/chopsythecat#p/u/53/fhchPKY8fWQ . I think I also ought to stress that while the administration SYSTEM in the UK is abominable, the people who are left to administer it are altruists of the highest order. The speech therapists in particular toil in a morass of lack of funds and inter-departmental red tape and mis-communication that would baffle rocket scientists. I was in fact in touch with Lara's old therapist just the other day, as she had become such a mainstay of daily life and a good friend to my daughter – we've been out of the country for over a year now and officially she has long had nothing to do with the case. As a parent I was acutely aware that there were an awful lot of things that I was not being told, because of policy. The chief of these was around the diagnosis issue, but there were a myriad other situations where I could see that there were recommendations or bits of advice I might have been given, but were only hinted at very tactfully because it was against protocol to do so. This was mainly from the therapists themselves, who are in the direct firing line in dealing with day-to-day issues with children with speech problems. They really wanted to get the children on their feet, and worked under the given parameters to the very best of their ability. It's definitely the parameters I had an issue with, not the therapists. As a contrast to the system in the UK, I have the example of what happened to be a concurrent situation with a friend of my sister's, living in Japan. The children were the same age: two years old. Both with the same problem of oral and verbal dyspraxia. My daughter in the UK (as outlined) spent two years without any official diagnosis and at best treatment once a week. The treatment itself was mostly communication-directed and almost none focused on the actual sound-production issue. The Japanese child was referred directly from first visit at the GP's to daily speech therapy (this within a few days). At the end of three months the situation had been addressed to such an extent that further treatment was rendered a minor concern. Meanwhile, my child was still waiting for a first appointment with a paediatrician. Now, which is the most cost-effective method, I wonder? Which will have the better outcome for the child and result in a higher-functioning citizen? It simply makes no economic sense, quite putting aside the issue of human suffering. Considering what a vast proportion of their life a few months is to a child of that age, and the amount of crucial development they miss out on by the (seemingly) wilful lack of intervention at an early stage, the delay British children experience in receiving treatment is astounding.

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  5. Hi there, Sorry I took a while to thank you for sharing your story. It's very sad to think that children may not get the treatment they need due to system problems. I hope the new report on the Early years Foundation Stage (see http://fb.me/IthzGvQf ) goes some way to promote understanding of the importance of communication in the first three years. I hope you daughter is doing well now.

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