Guest post by Artemis Pepelasi
A milestone of human development is speech. Speech is not only about the number of words an individual knows but also the effective and meaningful communication with the environment, which also includes non-verbal characteristics like eye contact and gestures. Parents tend to be very anxious about their babies' first words and get worried if their children do not speak at a specific age. However, they sometimes ignore that the preparation of speech and communication began before their children were born.
Why do infants cry?
Babies cry to communicate their needs, like hunger, illness, frustration etc. Regarding their needs, infants cry in different ways. That is their very first attempt to communicate with the environment. Nevertheless, communication does not only rely on the individual's needs; communication also has social aspects. And children need to learn those aspects from their caregivers.
What can a caregiver do to teach communication?
There are several ways for caregivers to teach communication. Naturalistic context is always effective for children to learn dyadic interaction and conversation. Naturalistic context is whichever procedure has “natural” characteristics. For instance when teaching our children to play with others, we will do so on the playground. If we want to teach them how to communicate, we should try to communicate with them in the same way we communicate with verbal people.
In order to attract children’s attention, adults can talk louder and show how words are pronounced through emphasizing facial expressions.
Another effective way to foster communication is by describing all the activities happening: describe the food preparation or that infants will have their bath. Moreover, caregivers can ask questions to infants while making eye contact and waiting for a response. In that way, infants learn that a conversation needs at least two people, everyone has time to speak, and each conversation participant pays attention to the one who is talking. We must remember that we all have learned to speak and communicate because we listened to someone talking and imitated this behavior.
What is the right time to teach an additional language?
Communication skills can be taught regardless of the caregivers’ language and culture. Research has shown positive cognitive effects in multilingual infants. Experiments have shown that bilingual infants were more likely than monolingual infants to remain engaged to a stimulus and switch faster from one stimulus to another.
There is an excellent opportunity for children to acquire different languages early on in life and learn that different sounds and gestures can be included in communication. Nevertheless, caregivers should be careful because the same gestures may have different meanings in different cultures. It is suitable for all caregivers to come to an agreement about the gestures used with the child.
The interaction caregivers have with children is not only helpful in teaching languages and communication. Another essential aspect of this interaction is the children’s secure attachment to their primary caregiver. Since infancy, children communicate to fulfill their needs. However, they have to know they can turn to a specific person in distress or because of illness. This need for safety is essential for all infants. The lack of that safety combined with individual characteristics (i.e. temperament and environmental factors) can lead to later internalizing and externalizing problems, such as anxiety and maladaptive behaviors.
Talk to your infants even though they cannot speak yet. They are capable of communication and need it in order to feel safe and secure with you. Communication is the key to the emotional connection of children with their caregivers!
- What is your experience communicating with your infant?
- Please feel free to share your experience in the comments.
About the author:
Artemis Pepelasi lives in the Netherlands. She studied at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Philosophy, Pedagogics and Psychology. She worked as a therapist for children with developmental disorders and decided this year to strengthen her knowledge and is attending the master program “Parenting and Child Development” in Leiden University. She is currently completing an internship at Ute’s International Lounge.
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