By Dr. Janine Spencer
Psychologists used to think that newborns could see and hear no more than a blurry, buzzing world of confusion. We now know this is not true at all. Infants are born ready to see certain objects like faces, and to learn language, explore their environment and interact socially very soon after birth.
Development during this first year is incredibly quick. For example, how old do babies have to be before they can distinguish between cats and dogs? Maybe when they learn to say “cat” and “dog”? Unbelievable as it may seem, by three months babies can recognize the difference between different breeds of cats and dogs. Although babies seem to learn with seemingly little effort, these abilities we take for granted are incredibly sophisticated and take many years to master completely. It is now known that by providing babies with a rich, stimulating environment, parents can help them develop their full potential.
* When your baby isn’t even old enough to babble, you might feel as if you’re talking to yourself. However, exposure to language helps babies hear the boundaries between words and familiarizes them to the structure of language. So keep talking!
* Two-month old babies can engage in turn-taking behavior; this is the beginning of communication. Try talking to your baby. You may well find that your baby will coo in response. Let your baby finish and then say something else.
* As babbling gives way to talking try to ask your child open-ended questions (where the appropriate response is more than a simple “yes” or “no”). This will encourage your child to learn to speak in sentences.
* It’s never too early to read to your child. Reading encourages children to develop good listening skills, which are essential for successful communication.
* Songs and nursery rhymes are a great way for children to learn the rhythm and pace of language. They also encourage participation and help to build confidence in a child’s communication abilities.
* Provide interactive toys that are designed to promote turn-taking and listening skills.
Dr. Janine Spencer is a developmental psychologist and director of the Centre for Research in Infant Behaviour (CRIB) in the UK.
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