Talking with your baby can build a healthy brain. When babies hear lots of words in the first three years of their lives, they are more likely to have success in school. Babies respond best to loving words, including words of encouragement, praise and warm, friendly questions. Just like the way foods full of nutrients provide nourishment, words rich in quality are important for feeding the brains of babies. This is sometimes called language nutrition. Children who are given language nutrition as babies are more likely to be able to read by the end of third grade and do better in school.
One of the best ways to help children build healthy brains is through interactions that experts call “serve and return.” When babies smile at you, return their smiles. When they reach out, reach out to them. Reward their coos by talking to them. Singing and laughing together are also good ways to help boost brain development in babies.
Tips for Using Loving Words
- Talk, sing and read to your child using your home language.
- Avoid using TV, phones and tablets. You are your child’s best teacher!
- Use eye contact, facial expressions and gestures while you talk.
- Speak in a melodic tone with a higher pitch than normal.
- Read with your child or point to illustrations and make up your own story.
- Avoid using negative commands like, “No, Stop, Be quiet,” and instead use positive words and speak in a happy voice.
- Use short, simple sentences and draw out the word sounds.
- Repeat simple sentences over and over.
- Pay attention and respond to what your child is looking at and interested in.
- Look for opportunities to talk with your baby in everyday situations, like running errands or doing chores around the house.
- Encourage grandparents, teachers and other adults in your child’s life to play a role in promoting language and brain development.
These brain-building interactions can bring a lifetime of healthy benefits to our children, our families and our communities.
Talk With Me Baby™ provides more information about why talking to babies matters. Parents and caregivers can also find tips for using word interactions with young children every day.
The Harvard Center on the Developing Child provides more information on “serve and return," plus a 5-step guide for learning how to “do” serve and return. Get the serve and return guide in English. Get the serve and return guide in Spanish.
Learn more about infant brain development.
Learn more about brain development for toddlers.
Learn more about brain development for preschoolers.