Your toddler experiences the same emotions you do. However, they don’t have the language skills to express how they’re feeling. Instead, they need to communicate strong emotions such as frustration, excitedness, nervousness, sadness, jealousy, worry, fright, anger and embarrassment in other ways.
Offering them language skills can help them to not only express themselves as children, but become more empathetic and rational adults.
Research reveals that the average toddler learns eight words a day. According to a study published in Pediatrics, it’s not just exposure to words, but the frequency of conversation with adults that helps to predict language skills and IQ a decade later.
Jill Gilkerson, senior director of research and evaluation at the LENA Research Foundation, a non-profit in Colorado in the US, believes this research is beneficial not only for parents, but family members and caregivers since toddlers can spend more than half their time in daycare. She shares, “This is a crucial period for development, and that has to be the focus for these kids and their brains.”
The 10-year study started with newborns. Conversations between the baby and adult were recorded and monitored once a month for 12 hours a day over a time period of six months from birth to 36 months. The researchers then looked at language and cognitive tests given to the children when they were between the ages of nine and 13.
The results revealed that the time period between 18 and 24 months was most important for strong cognitive, reasoning and language skills in later life. Further research has revealed that building a strong vocabulary during this informative time can benefit your child through to adulthood – helping them to become rational adults with high emotional intelligence and more capable of dealing with conflict management.
Gilkerson adds that even as adults, we tend to absorb more information when engaging in a conversation, rather than simply being spoken to or listening to a lecture. “It’s the same with babies. If they are involved in the conversation, they’re more likely to be paying attention.”
Research has found that the level of exposure to words, verbs and adjectives, between the ages of 18 and 36 months is predictive of a toddler’s IQ at the age of three. In fact, a study conducted by researchers out of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that children who engaged in conversation with adults (even non-sensical conversational babble of babies) had a greater activation of the area of the brain that deals with speech production and comprehension. Lead author of this study, Rachel Romeo, explains that the quality of interaction between toddlers and adults provides the perfect foundation for later academic success. “Language is the single best predictor of how well you’re going to do in preschool, at the doorstep of language, and all the way through formal schooling,” she adds. Good language skills help improve readings skills, math skills and social skills.
The trick is not to talk at your baby or toddler, but rather with. And this can start from newborn. Allow your baby to respond to you, through non-verbal and verbal expression. The experts recommend that you put aside two minutes a day to pay attention to what your child is absorbed with, and comment on this as this will stimulate a conversation. The rule of five is important, the expert adds. No more than five seconds should pass between the cue from your baby or toddler and your response, in a “turn-taking” conversation. A “conversation” should involve around five exchanges of this nature.
Did you know? Your two-year-old can understand between 200 to 300 words and adds as many as 10 new words to their vocabulary every day.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.