Language development begins at birth. The first signs of social communication begin with eye contact and speaking to your baby, responding to his/her vocalizations and sounds and bonding.
- Bonding: Skin to skin contact is wonderful in those first months for many reasons: it supports the development of regulation and co-regulation skills, calms/soothes, creates an immediate social/emotional connection and feeling of safety, supports development of the tactile and proprioceptive systems which play roles in later developing cognitive and social/emotional skills.
- Playing/floor time: Spend time with your baby on the floor. Tummy time is ideal for positioning and for some face-to-face time to support early social interactions. You can also participate in face-to-face time with your infant when they are propped in supine (on their back) resting on your feet (i.e., you are seated on the floor or bed with your legs in a “frog” position and your baby rests partly on your feet) while you are holding their hands and looking at them. In this position you can encourage a “baby sit up” (the hands pulling reflex) while looking at them and cooing/talking/vocalizing in an engaging way.
- Honor them where they are: Work from the level of where your baby is. Follow their lead and do not place expectations on an interaction.
- Using the 5 Senses: Expose them to language that they can experience through all of their senses: sound, sight, taste, touch, smell, e.g., talk about how the water is wet, warm, cool; or how the blanket is soft; how the toy is hard/loud, etc. This supports later language development.
- READ! Read to your baby from a young age. Short, simple cloth books and/or board books with colors, textures, etc. At about 6 months you can read the books with them and model language by labeling what you see, how it feels, what it looks like, etc. After doing this for a length of time check in to see look to see if, as you name items in the book, your baby shifts his/her gaze to the item you label. Reading is a fantastic way to teach language to your infant! Try to do it daily!
- Attention: Encourage slow movement with attention. You can do this while your baby is in your lap: rocking, stretching, twisting. Or if they are not yet sitting up, you can do this on the floor while they are lying on their back, providing gentle input to arms, legs, spine while looking in their eyes and smiling. Do this slowly and with attention and intention. You can vocalize while you move and see if your baby will make his/her own sounds during movement as well.
- Vocal Play: Vocalize and engage in vocal play with your baby from birth. Model cooing and simple speech-sounds and combinations (such as modeling animal sounds when playing with animals, reading books with animals, etc.). Vocal play entails listening for your baby’s vocalizations and then responding back by imitating what they say OR responding as if they are talking to you, “Oh really. Then what happened?” and then stopping and waiting for them to vocalize again.
While the internet is a wonderful source of information, it’s best to get specific questions answered by professionals that know you and your baby. Ask your pediatrician. For speech-language development, they may ask you to talk to a Speech Therapist.
Colleen Nolan MS, SLP-CCC, Carolina Kinder Development (and Heart Centered)