Talk to me!
Is an expectant mother aware that her child is tuning into her voice? In the early months of life it is the sound of her voice that will stimulate the learning centres of her baby’s brain, and it is especially high-pitched ‘baby talk’, sometimes called ‘Motherese’, that will have the greatest impact. As the weeks go by, this maternal ‘auditory face’ has other advantages too, having a regulatory effect on the immature infant’s response to stressful situations, by stimulating the bonding chemical, oxytocin.
But even before this, a baby’s amazing alertness and wish to communicate is evident from the first hour or so after birth, offering ripe possibility for establishing the first socio-emotional foundations of the parent/child relationship. In view of this, it is surprising that in a recent survey, commissioned by What About The Children?, almost half of the thousand or so questioned disagreed with the statement: ‘From the minute after birth, new-born babies are ready to communicate’ (TNS-KANTAR, 2018).
From the very earliest days, communication routes are established through neurological connections in the baby’s brain by the parent talking to her, smiling at her, and verbally interpreting and mirroring her expressions and ‘desire cues’. As the weeks go by, the baby will show distinct preference for familiar faces, initially the mother’s, and will follow her gaze. Indeed, persistent gaze-following is found to be an early predictor of later communication and social competence. It is, therefore, through early and loving one-to-one communication that first relationships are formed, giving the child a confident and secure ‘mental model’ with significant impact on development into the future.
Wide differences are found in measures taken of 12 year olds’ academic achievement between those children who had enjoyed significant levels of one-to-one communication in early infancy, and those who had not. Children’s and young people’s communication difficulties are, unfortunately, often linked to problematic behaviour, including an inability to listen. Research indicates that later catch-up is rarely possible.