Baby Attention and Concentration: How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter Part Four

Hello and welcome to this week’s fourth extract from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter. Every week, I’m posting up some paragraphs from my new book for you to read.  This will help you find the information you need on your child’s language development during the first few years of his life. It’s your chance to find out more about the way your child is learning to talk.

You need to help your child, because it’s the first three years that matter most. 

If you’re a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. At the end of each week’s post you’ll see a link to take you on to the next extract. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.

Before this week’s extract, here are just a few words about an important development in England.

By the way
You may have heard that a review of the Early Learning Foundation Stage (EYFS) was published recently. The EYFS describes all the things that childcare professionals must think about. Dame Claire Tickell, the report’s author, spent many months looking at evidence about young children, and listening to the things parents and professionals had to say.

She says communication and language development really matter during the first three years of your child’s life.

She advises early years professionals to concentrate their efforts on communication, along with helping social and emotional development and checking on physical development.

Learning to read, write and do maths can wait. Now’s the time to lay the foundations for your child’s future success.

Here are a few scary statistics:

  • 50% of children start school in England, unable to understand properly: how will they learn in the classroom? 
  • 70% of young offenders have speech and/or language problems: what does that tell us about the importance of language in our children’s lives? 
  • 20% of people think they don’t need to talk to their baby until he’s three months old: aren’t they missing out on some wonderful experiences, and failing to introduce their baby to the possibilities of communication?

The good news is that it’s really easy to help your child talk. You just need to pay attention to the Five Keys:

  • attention,
  • listening,
  • understanding,
  • play, and
  • speech.

In previous extracts from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter, I’ve talked about the way your baby’s attention is caught by things he sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches, how he concentrates on one thing at a time and how you can use simple games to increase his attention and concentration. 

Now read this week’s post to find out even more about your baby’s attention skills: the first of those Five Keys your child needs to open his treasure chest of language.   

Attention skills: over-stimulation
While your baby is tiny, too many new sights, sounds and people can over-stimulate him. Be prepared to take him to a quiet place and soothe him if he becomes fractious. Everything is new to a baby, and he needs plenty of peaceful sleep. In fact, during his first 2 months he’s likely to sleep for about 20 hours a day. While he sleeps, his brain busily builds connections and helps him to make sense of the world. 

As he grows, he spends longer periods awake and alert. Make sure your voice is the one he hears most. Dr William Sears pioneered the concept of attachment between you and your baby. A close relationship with your baby, including time spent feeding him, holding him and responding to his cries, helps him learn best from you, because you can adjust your voice and your words to his needs. 

As you talk to him, watch him and make eye contact, you learn to read his expressions. Notice when he concentrates on you, and when something distracts his attention. 

Spend time with him and let the housework wait. 

Attention skills: baby activities: vision
Even during his first 3 months, he learns to follow an object with his eyes. Move one toy at a time from side to side. Use a rattle to help him concentrate a little longer, as his hearing and vision focus together. Show him pictures of faces and watch him look hard at them for a few seconds. Even tiny babies prefer pictures of faces to other visual stimulation. 
 
Attention skills: baby activities: five senses
Remember he has five senses, so appeal to all of them: smell, touch and taste as well as vision and hearing. Early in his first year, he starts to pass objects from one hand to the other. Let him have soft balls or crinkly paper, so encourage him to feel and hear the difference.

As he begins to eat solid food, his delicate senses of smell and taste mean he shows real enjoyment of some foods as well as distaste for others. Let him try a variety of foods, helping him notice and focus on the new sensations.

Offer him plenty of opportunities to use each of his senses, both separately and together. Draw his attention to what he can feel or see, taste or touch or hear. Avoid overloading him with too much sensory stimulation, as this will overwhelm him, and give him plenty of time to explore the world for himself.

Come back next week for the next extract to find out more about your child’s attention skills as he becomes a toddler. A link will appear HERE.

Can’t Wait? BUY NOW to download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter in seconds for only £3.53.

Help Your Child Talk Part 2: Attention Skills

 Attention Skills.
The more help your child gets from you, the better his language skills will be. You’ll have a real treat, seeing how well he progresses, and knowing you’re giving him the best start possible.


Nevertheless, some children have problems learning language. Sometimes a child takes longer to reach language goals, or he becomes stuck at one stage and can’t seem to move on. Read the Monitoring section towards the end of the book, to check on the language goals you can expect your child to reach at different times during his early life.


If you think his progress in reaching these stages is slow, then get help straight away from your healthcare provider. Don’t delay.


Don’t “wait and see.” Early intervention is incredibly important, as it lets you, and the right professionals, help your child while his brain is at its most receptive. The first 3 years of your child’s life are precious.


If you have to wait for an appointment to assess your child, make sure you use the time to keep working on the five keys to your child’s success, by playing language games.


Just be sure that you carry out activities that he can manage and enjoy. Don’t rush, or try to push him on faster than he can go. Let him progress at a pace that feels comfortable for him. That way, you’ll go on giving him the best opportunities you can, even before professional help kicks in.


First Key: Attention Skills
Attention skills: infants
Your baby has all his five senses in place at birth. He can already see, hear, touch, smell and taste. He spends three busy years, growing and developing at an amazing rate. He uses his senses to take in the world around him, becoming familiar with this new place.


From the moment he enters the world, he has access to vast amounts of information. He can easily be overwhelmed. He needs to sort out all the new stimulation around him, and learn to attend to one thing at a time.


Later on, he learns how to shift his attention deliberately from one single thing that captured his interest, to something else, so he can listen and learn. Children who fail to control their own attention find it difficult to learn when they arrive in school. Nursery, preschool, kindergarten and infant schools surround a child with a busier, noisier environment. Help your child learn to attend to one task at a time to make it easier for him to cope at school.


Attention skills: the infant brain
Your baby has a billion brain cells at birth. These are just about all he needs for the rest of his life. However, he needs to connect the cells to each other, linking each neuron to a number of others. Links establish themselves as he finds out about new things and develops new skills, and myelin sheaths grow over the connections, stabilising and protecting them permanently.


Once the sheaths are in place, the rate of growth slows. As a result, your child has “critical periods” of development, when different aspects of his growth and learning increase most rapidly.


Scientists agree that your child’s first three years are the most critical for language learning, although he continues to develop his language skills rapidly until he reaches 10 years of age. Make the most of the vital first three years by understanding how best to help him make the brain connections that lead to the best possible language abilities.


Start as soon as he’s born. Use his five senses to build his language, beginning with the simple task of looking at your face.


Attention skills: baby activities: singing
Your newborn baby hears and enjoys music. He turns to gentle sounds, and moves his body. Use this sense of hearing and his natural instinct for rhythm and tune to help him develop his ability to concentrate.


Rock him or bounce him gently on your knee as you sing to him. No matter how croaky your voice may be, sing nursery rhymes or pop songs; whatever you enjoy most. Your baby doesn’t mind what you sing, but he loves to hear your voice and listening to you will help him focus his attention on sound. Much of his experience in the early months is visual or through his senses of touch, taste and smell. Singing helps him concentrate on his hearing.







How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Learning Two Languages

Parents used to feel anxious about allowing their babies to learn two languages at once, for fear it would damage their language skills in the long term. Those days have gone. Happily, for our global society, the weight of evidence now shows that bilingual children are at an advantage in many ways over their monolingual peers.

Advantages
Babies who hear two languages or more, before and soon after birth, become skilled at choosing the right brain tool for intellectual tasks. As they continue through life, maintaining their skill in two languages, they even have some protection from the onset of Alzheimers. They can stave off the start of the brain disease for up to five years, according to York University, Toronto, with their improved language tools.

Active brain
Your brain stays nimble and works harder when you speak two languages, building up “cognitive reserve”. In other words, you need to use it or lose it. The more languages you speak, the more protection your brain gains against the disease. If you stop using both languages, your brain loses the advantage.

Attention
Babies who hear and see more than one language in their first months are able to attend carefully. Research carried out in McGill University, Montreal, and the University of British Colombia shows that babies of a few months already recognize features of both languages, such as the segmentation of words and the differences in facial expression of the speaker. These skills are important in developing language skills, and learning them while young gives those lucky babies a head start.

Early skills
Babies and young children learn both languages simultaneously, and switch easily from one to the other. Some speak one language with their mother and another with their father, while others manage one language at home and another when at nursery or preschool.

Language learning takes place most rapidly between birth and 3 years or age. Children continue to learn until 10 or 12 years, but after that time find it harder to learn new languages. Feral children, deprived of communication in their early years, find it impossible to catch up completely, and spend their lives disadvantaged by poor language skills.

Implications
The message to parents is clear. If your child has access to more than one language, take advantage of the opportunity to help your child talk in both and encourage extra brain activity.

If your baby only hears one language, introduce a new one well before he reaches 10 years of age, preferably even before he’s 3 years old.

You may be too old to pick it up a new skill as easily as your child does, but it’s worth learning a second language yourself. You’ll keep your mind as active as you can, to give yourself as much protection as possible against later brain problems.

Further Information
How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter:Amazon Kindle eBook:
2011
National Geographic: Bilingual Babies: 2009
School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, McGill University, Montreal: Word segmentation in monolingual and bilingual infant learners of English and French: Linda Polka & Megha Sundara
Science Now: An Infants Refine Tongue: 2011
Royal Society: Brain Waves Module Two: Neuroscience: Implications for Education and Lifelong Learning: 2011





How to help your child talk and grow smarter: early language development non-verbal communication and signing

Your first communication with your baby is through body langauge: through the five senses. Touch, vision, taste and smell are just as important as hearing to a newborn.

Charles Darwin recognised, back in 1872, that humans and animals show emotion through their gestures. More recently, in 1971, Albert Mehrabian published his book “Silent Messages”, suggesting that as little as 7 percent of communication relies on words. The rest depends on body language, gesture, facial expression and tone of voice. Although your baby has no real words until 12 to 18 months of age, he communicates constantly, practising many of the non-verbal skills that will smooth his path in life, as an effective communicator.

Early communication
Your newborn baby immediately communicates with you, through non-verbal crying. By the time he reaches 3 years of age, he talks in small sentences. As he makes that speedy language development journey, he combines developing motor skills with his growing intellect and social awareness to communicate. He interacts with you, his family and his widening circle of friends in any way he can find.

His first, hugely successful cries have you running towards him at top speed to feed, change or cuddle him. Every baby’s loud, shrill screams have an instant effect on his parents. Breast-feeding mothers find their milk flowing as soon as they hear them.

He notices your voice within days and soon turns towards you when you speak to him. Your words mean nothing to him at this stage but he notices whether your voice is loud of soft, angry or loving. He makes eye contact with you, learning the valuable lesson for life that non-verbal communication builds human relationships. His first social smile appears at around 3 months.

Your baby’s vocalisations begin to change. He coos with happiness and shouts with displeasure, but his first words remain a few months in the distance. In the meantime, he tries out different sounds, babbling happily in strings of nonsense sounds.

Signing
At around 6 to 9 months, he transfers objects from one hand to the other. He learns to wave “bye bye” and clap his hands. Parents sometimes like to introduce a few baby signs at this stage, such as simple signs for “eat”, “drink” and “more”. One or two small studies, described in Dr Marilyn Daniels’ “Dancing With Words”,suggest that babies who use signing show an increase in their measured IQs at the age of 8.

However, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) website points out that little research into the long-term benefits of baby signing exists. ASHA suggests that the IQ difference between babies whose parents use signing and other babies may be due to genetic and environmental advantages from the babies’ parents.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in the UK advises that signing parents should always combine the signs with the spoken word.

Whether you teach specific signs to your baby or not, he recognises your non-verbal behaviour. He knows when you are anxious or stressed, and responds by becoming fractious. By the end of his first year, he may become anxious when you leave him, because he recognises your unique place in his life. He continues to use eye contact, tone of voice and gestures such as shaking his head to communicate with you. He may say his first word, and his non-verbal skills continue to develop during the rest of his early years.

References
“The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”; Charles Darwin; 1872
“Silent Messages”; Albert Mehrabian; 1971
“Dancing With Words”; Dr Marilyn Daniels; 2001
“SLTs Say Baby Signing Programmes are Not Necessary for Most Children”; RCSLT press release; 27 October 2003
The ASHA Leader; “About Baby Signing”; Brenda Seal; 2010