Talking to toddlers can be a rewarding and also a frustrating experience.
You know a lot of what you’re saying is going in one cute little ear and out the other.
And often their responses can be completely unrelated to your conversation.
One thing you can be sure of: the amount of time you spend talking to toddlers can have a big impact on their intelligence.
Talking To Toddlers Improves Intelligence, Study Says
A new study published in Pediatrics, the journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics, found toddlers’ language experiences have far-reaching consequences.
Namely, the more opportunity they have to chat as toddlers, the higher their IQ.
And the better their language skills are a decade later.
The study focused on toddlers aged between 18 and 24 months. There were 329 children involved in the study.
What Did The Study Find?
Their families recorded a 12-hour day of audio, once a month for six months.
A software program analysed the recordings, to quantify adult word exposure, child vocalisation and turn-taking interactions.
The amount of talking to toddlers parents did was important.
But the study found the amount of talking with toddlers (taking turns in a conversation) was even more important.
During Phase 2 of the research, 146 of the original participants, aged between 9 and 13 years, attended follow-up language and cognitive assessments.
These assessments were carried out by a clinical psychologist who didn’t have access to the data from Phase 1 of the study.
They found a correlation between early language experience, language skills, and IQ score at 9 to 13 years old.
The correlation was strongest for the children first analysed between 18 and 24 months of age.
This suggests this window of development might be particularly important for language skills.
The authors of the study concluded early intervention was necessary to support parents to create the best early language environment for their toddlers.
“It’s incredible that we are able to measure the relationship between the experiences of babies and their cognitive skills 10 years later”, said Dr. Jill Gilkerson, the lead author of the paper.
“It strongly supports what other research has shown: talk with babies may make a huge difference in their futures and there is a need to begin early, since parents’ talk habits in the 18-24-month window start forming from the moment the baby is born”.
“We know all of the child’s conversational partners matter, from their parents and primary caregivers to their child care teachers”, said Dr. Stephen Hannon.
“This research confirms a growing body of science that says adult-child interactive talk is essential to early development and success in school”.
Talking To Toddlers In Your Everyday Life
It’s all very well knowing the science, but knowing how to talk to toddlers is another thing altogether.
Here are a few ideas to help make talking to toddlers an enriching experience:
#1: Chat Back
That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not always easy to do.
You need to force yourself to get into this habit when your child first starts trying to engage with you.
In the early months, talking to toddlers will be less about their talking, and more about their babbling. They will start to form words at about 12 months.
Most (not all) toddlers can say an average of about 20 words by 18 months. By the time they turn two, most toddlers have increased their vocabulary to about 50 words or more.
It will take a while before your toddler is making any sense; meanwhile you’ll need to force yourself to chat back anyway.
Each time you respond to the noises toddlers make, you are encouraging them to make more.
And, of course, you’re increasing their exposure to language each time you talk.
#2: Give Them Time
Modern life is busy. You might be juggling the demands of motherhood with your career, hobbies, and a million other things.
It’s not easy to make the time to slow down, but if you can it will be worthwhile.
Quite often, as parents, we can predict quite easily what our toddlers are about to say.
Rather than give them the time to explain slowly what they want, we sometimes find it’s easier to do the talking for them.
This isn’t talking to toddlers, it’s talking at them.
This might be a timesaver, but it robs them of the opportunity to practise their conversational skills.
Try to give your toddlers the time and space to say things for themselves, no matter how painfully slow it might be for you.
#3: Ditch The Distractions
Whenever we are engrossed in technology we miss out on social interactions.
Turn off the television or the radio. Put your phone out of reach, and really concentrate on being present with your toddler.
No, you don’t have to do this all the time.
There is nothing wrong with using your phone or watching a movie.
But try to carve out a little time each day without those distractions.
Unfortunately, when our attention is focused elsewhere, we miss our toddler’s invitations to engage.
You can read the full study, Language Experience in the Second Year of Life and Language Outcomes in Late Childhood, in the October issue of Pediatrics.
It is important to note this study was was a relatively small sample study.
Only 10 children were from the lowest socio-economic status group.
The sample was not considered to be ethnically diverse. The sample also did not include children from bilingual families.
If you’re keen to encourage your toddler’s language skills, you might like to read Electronic Toys Linked To Decreased Language During Play.