ATTN: Busy Moms! Talking to Your Babies is Even Better than Reading to Them

Dana Suskind, the author of Thirty Million Words, just tweeted this article about a recent study in Ireland that shows that chattering away (or as we Americans say, "talking") to babies is EVEN BETTER than reading to them. If your child is anything like mine this is great news because my little wiggle worm won't sit still long enough for me to put socks on her feet, so forget about reading a whole six-page children's book.

When my daughter June was about 2.5 months old, and I could tell she could focus on objects, I started trying to set her in my lap to read some of her books, but she was not interested in the slightest. I thought, “Oh, well, clearly she’s just not to the age where she’s interested in books yet. When she’s a little older and can focus on the pictures, and understand some of the words she’ll be interested and I’ll read to her all the time. For now, I’ll just continue to talk to her, narrating everything I'm doing.”

But, I read in TMW that reading to infants introduces them to the rhythm of speech, and the cadence of words strung together into sentences is a very early lesson in how language works. Babies won’t understand the words being read of course, but they will find comfort in the parents’ voice and the warmth of touch (Suskind, p. 157). Since comprehension isn’t the goal, Suskind said, reading a children’s book is not necessary; any book will do. I just wish Suskind would have put this at the beginning of her book instead of on page 157... June would have heard many more than thirty million words if I would've been reading aloud to her the whole time. : )

Of course, reading to babies is great for their brain development because they are hearing the cadence and rhythm of speech, but simply talking to your baby, narrating what you're doing as you work around the house, is even better for your babies. According to the article, parents who said they “always” talked to their baby while doing things around the house tended to have babies who scored higher on a test designed to measure babies’ burgeoning problem-solving and communication skills.

Murray, of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Ireland, says "talking directly to babies possibly encourages the baby to attempt to engage in two-way communication and better focuses their attention on (their) input, although this isn’t a hypothesis we can test directly with this particular research." I have noticed this with June; when I'm talking to her dad or our dog June doesn't engage, but when I talk to her directly she makes eye contact, and tries to comprehend what I'm saying. A lot of the time she'll even talk back to me with high pitch squeals or babbling.

Murray also says that talking to your baby is better than reading because "talking to the baby is something that can happen very frequently throughout the day, and is easier to combine with other parenting tasks, whereas reading to an infant might only be for a few minutes a day a couple of times a week." Reading this article was a huge sigh of relief for me because, honestly, reading to June was just another thing on the list of 145 things I had to accomplish each day, but chatting with her all day long as we went about our daily routine was something I could most certainly manage.

So, for all you parents who are like me, and worried that you were already a failure because you weren't reading to your babies on a daily basis, rest assured that chatting with them all day is even better for their cognitive development. When you're husband looks at you like you're crazy because you're asking your 5-month-old daughter what we should make for dinner tonight, don't even worry about it because you know you are growing a little human brain to its greatest potential.