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The benefits of using ‘parentese’ with infants

Health

The benefits of using ‘parentese’ with infants

It’s only natural for parents and other family members to coo-coo infants, but new research suggests there are noticeable benefits to regularly incorporating real words when communicating with little ones.
Researchers at the University of Washington found that when parents talk to their babies in “parentese,” it can boost language and social development. Parentese uses proper grammar and real words delivered at a higher pitch with different intonations and pace to encourage babies to respond.
“Over-exaggerating your speech but using real words can help babies learn how to form their mouth and tongue to make their own speech intelligible,” explains Dr. Lucretia Carter, medical director of pediatrics at Tidelands Health and a pediatrician at Tidelands Health Pediatrics in Myrtle Beach.

The benefits of 'parentese'

In the University of Washington study, children whose parents spoke to them using “parentese” had better language retention and stronger parent-child conversations. Children also learned real words at a faster pace than their counterparts, the study found.

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“Using real words while being expressive with your face and somewhat exaggerating your inflection can help infants pick up the cues and nuances needed to form real words,” Dr. Carter says. “Sing-song is OK, too. It’s engaging and captures their attention.”
Speech and actions work in unison to enrich a child’s communication development, Dr. Carter adds.
“Communication isn’t only verbal, but it comes in a lot of our non-verbal cues and motions,” she says.

Key tips

Here are some tips to better communicate with your infant:

  • Speak real words but in a playful manner, such as using a sing-song voice.
  • Communicate face-to-face with your baby so they can see how your mouth and tongue move when speaking.
  • Don’t rely on the TV for speech development. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time beyond video chatting for children younger than 18 months. Among children 18-24 months old, parents who want to allow some screen time are encouraged to choose high-quality programming and apps and use them with their children.
  • Minimize background noise so your child can more easily focus on you.
  • Take time to communicate with your child many times throughout the day.
  • Build in some quiet time so your child isn’t overly stimulated by all the communication.

Parents who are concerned about their child’s communication skills should speak to a pediatrician.
“It’s common, especially among first-time parents, for concerns to arise about the speed of a child’s speech development,” Dr. Carter says. “One of the biggest roles I have as a pediatrician is keeping the parent’s expectations realistic but also letting them know what they should be looking for in the months ahead when it comes to developing speech.”

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