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Infant Communication and Language Development

Posted Aug. 01, 2013, at 1:34 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 28, 2013, at 1:52 p.m.
Author Adrienne Randall, Community Education Assistant for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Teen & Young Parent Program.
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Author Adrienne Randall, Community Education Assistant for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Teen & Young Parent Program.

Learning to use language, or language development, is one of the most important pursuits of early childhood. Adequate communication skills can prevent frustration and improve quality of life.

Babies are born with an instinct to communicate and since they cannot use words, crying is their primary means of communication. Babies have different cries for being hungry, needing a diaper change and wanting a parent or caregiver close. At first it may not be easy to recognize each cry, but once you do it will benefit you and your baby. Giving a newborn what he needs helps in building a strong bond.

A newborn recognizes voices heard before she was born. Your baby’s environment needs to be ‘rich in language’ with many experiences of sounds, not noise. The development of language passes through distinct stages, but it’s important to remember that each baby develops at his or her own pace. Around 3 – 6 months is when she may begin to make cooing, babbling or gurgling noises. It may not seem like a big deal at first; however, these noises mean that your baby has been soaking up all the language she’s been surrounded by. Babies need to see you make words, watch your expressions and hear the sounds. Then your baby will put these associations together in the process of learning language. Responding to her attempts at communicating show her that you are listening and how to take turns in conversations.

Contrary to popular belief, using television to entertain children under two years of age does not increase their language development. Recent studies show that TV-viewing tends to decrease babies’ likelihood of learning new words, talking, playing and otherwise interacting with others. The more time babies spend in front of the screen, the more their language, cognitive and social development may suffer. Since parents are their child’s first and most important teacher, they have the greatest ability to shape and support language development.

In order for a baby to develop language skills, he or she must be able to hear properly. If you suspect your baby’s language is not developing as expected, talk to your child’s pediatrician or your Maine Families parent educator. Ask for a hearing check-up.

If you or someone you know is pregnant or has a newborn at home and would like information about the Teen and Young Parent Program or Maine Families home visiting program, please call 207.594.1980 or toll-free within Maine at 877.972.5804. Enrollment takes place prenatally and up until the baby turns three months old. Parent Education Professionals use the Parents as Teachers (TM) curriculum to provide enrolled families with research based, up-to-date information on subjects such as language development, gross motor, routines, eating healthy, social/emotional development and much more. The Teen and Young Parent Program and Maine Families of Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties are proud to be affiliated with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. In complying with the letter and spirit of applicable laws and in pursuing its own goals of diversity, the University of Maine System shall not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation—including transgender status and gender expression—national origin, citizenship status, age, disability, or veterans’ status in employment, education, and all other areas of the University. The University provides reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities upon request.

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