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Ask Dr. Sears: Baby-Talking Adults

Q. What are your thoughts on adults using baby talk around babies? I really don't want my six-month-old exposed to this.

Don't worry about adults acting like babies around your baby. It's fun, it's natural, and it won't delay your baby talking like an adult. A baby brings out animated speech in adults. They naturally exaggerate facial gestures with big eyes, a wide-open mouth, and accentuate talking with their hands and total body language. When people talk with babies they also tend to exaggerate syllables and prolong vowels ("Preeeety baaaaby!").

Actually, I think baby talk is good for babies. It teaches babies the lesson that talking is fun. In fact, an important rule in speech training is first to help baby speak comfortably, and then work on speaking correctly. Speech (both sounds and body language) should naturally flow from the heart. And this is what babies learn from adults using those funny sounds and gestures.

Speech is caught and not taught. Your baby will learn to talk from the people she is surrounded by every day. Let the people around your baby talk the way they are most comfortable, and yet you can talk to your baby more adult-like if you wish. As long as you speak adult talk to your baby, she will naturally learn to talk like an adult.

Here are some other early speech lessons:

* Provide a running commentary. Like a sportscaster narrating a game, talk about your daily rituals simply and naturally with your baby. For instance, as you change her diaper say, "Now we lift our legs. Mommy puts diaper on, and then we put on dress. Lift up your hands," and so on. Babies love learning that actions, even normal, everyday activities, have words that go along with them.

* Play with action words. Babies like to learn language that is associated with exaggerated actions and gestures. They learn to associate the gestures with the sounds -- such as saying "bye-bye" as you wave to baby or go out the door. After you've repeated the bye-bye games many times, try saying bye-bye without waving or waving without saying anything. You may notice that he starts waving at the sound of bye-bye and eventually says bye-bye when you wave. Other favorite gesture games are "so big" and "pat-a-cake." Also try, "name those parts" around eighteen months. By that age most babies enjoy traveling around their body from head-to-toe saying, "Where is your nose...eye...ear...foot?"

* Read my lips. Babies learn language best when you engage them in eye-to-eye contact. That way they learn the facial gestures and mouth movements that go along with producing a word or phrase. One of the most important early language lessons to teach a child is looking at the listener while talking. When you engage your baby's face in animated talking baby learns to enjoy and regard everything involved in speech: the sounds, the gestures, and the facial language. The ability to give appropriate eye-to-eye contact while speaking is a valuable communication tool for succeeding life.