Positive Parenting: Early word development

Parents are often looking for ways to lay a strong foundation for school and make sure their babies and toddlers are off to a good start. Now, new research suggests that the quality of interaction between parent and child may play an important role in vocabulary development in a child’s first years. 

When it comes to helping children learn words, parents know there’s nothing like a few minutes with a favorite book.

“Every night we read to him and we make sure we read to him several time a day,” said mother Kelli Gleiner. 

But is simply reading out loud to a child enough to foster word development in his or her first few years? Research suggests there might be more to it. 

Catherine Ayoub is a consulting developmental psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Ayoub and her colleagues studied 146 parents and children who were enrolled in early head start. 

Researchers went into homes and videotaped their interactions at 12 months, 24 months and 36 months and counted the words babies said.

“We really found that the most important parenting contribution to the child’s development of language was parental sensitivity,” said Ayoub. 

Meaning, are parents picking up on their child’s cues? The research suggests being attentive to a child’s needs in a warm, loving way associated with a higher number of words that he or she speaks, especially early on. 

As children become toddlers, parent’s teaching activities become more important. So parents, make sure you let your child lead your interactions. If he shows interest in another activity, explore it. Describe and narrate the world around you. Name the objects you see, what they are and where they go.

“There’s a direct link between the stimulating behavior and vocabulary and there’s a direct link between the parental sensitivity and vocabulary,” said Ayoub. 

Together, these work best.

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