Mom voice, baby talk, parentese, child-directed speech. Whatever you call it, we have all heard it. It’s when parents talk to their babies in a higher, slightly annoying voice. It’s almost innate. Most of us do it without explicitly being directed to do so.
So, is it helpful or harmful to your child’s speech development? The answer is: it’s helpful! Certain aspects of child-directed speech (namely, higher pitch and exaggerated stress on certain words) have been found to help in development.
The other strong correlation has been found with quantity of maternal input. This just means that language tends to develop better when a parent is talking to the child a lot throughout the day. Makes sense, right?
Another study found that two more factors influenced a child’s later vocabulary levels. One was talking to toddlers using a more sophisticated vocabulary (bigger words). The other was talking to preschoolers using decontextualized narratives. This just means telling the child stories that are not related to their immediate environment.
So how do I implement this?
Child-directed speech can be implemented very simply, without adding anything extra to your already full plate. Simply narrate your child’s day. Use the “sports commentator” trick. Your child is the player, and you are giving the play-by-play. “Time to change clothes! Let’s PULL your arm OUT. Now we’re PUTTING your arm IN.” (The complexity of your sentences will depend on your child's age. See my post about the one step ahead principle.)
Also, tell your child stories. Again, you don’t necessarily need to add anything else to your day, although I am a huge advocate of a set storytime in your day. However, stories can be told throughout the day: in the car, during diaper changes, etc. Get some variety. Read straight from a book, make up a fantasy tale, or tell them something that happened in your own life. It’s never too early to start telling stories.
When narrating your child’s day and telling stories, remember to talk just a little higher and do bigger dips and peaks than you would when talking to an adult. Your voice should sound like a rollercoaster, not a highway.
A Caution: Be careful not to interpret baby talk to mean talking like a baby. Child-directed speech is just what it sounds like: directed to the child. So higher pitch, slower rate, longer pauses, exaggerated facial expressions, and simpler sentence structure are all helpful. However, do not start pronouncing words like a child or baby (like saying “wiwee siwee” instead of “really silly”). When the input the child is receiving includes mispronounced words, we can’t be too surprised when the child’s articulation is behind.
Are you worried your child’s language might not be developing quite on time? Contact me or a certified Speech-Language Pathologist in your area! Remember, early intervention is often key in making progress toward meeting milestones.
Rowe, M. L. (2012). A Longitudinal Investigation of the Role of Quantity and Quality of Child-Directed Speech in Vocabulary Development. Child Development, 83(5), 1762–1774. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01805.x
Soderstrom, M. (n.d.). Child-Directed Speech (Features of). Encyclopedia of Language Development. doi: 10.4135/9781483346441.n26