Choose Talk

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Doing life with little ones can either enrich their development or thwart it. Consider these two scenarios:

Bundle up baby and get her into the car seat.

Off to the Post office. Back out of the car seat. Standing in line, chattering with her about the line and clerks and stamp photos on the wall. She connects with those strangers in front and behind her. “That’s the postal clerk. We need stamps!” Back into the car seat.Cr Seat

Gas is getting low. Out of the car to activate the pump. Talking with her through the window as she watches me enter info and card into the gas pump and fill the car. “Look at that big truck! Whoooeee! That Gasoline smells stinky! Here we go.”

Hardware store. Onto your hip she goes—all the while, talking. Talking about all of the fabulous toys for grown-ups. She reaches for a shiny keyring.  “Oh, you like that pretty round key chain, do ya?!  We have one of those at home. We use it to organize the shed keys.”  Colors, textures and sizes attract her attention.  Functions are the subject of more conversation.  She spots a cat on the counter.  “Ooooh, look at this!  It’s a cute kitty.” I invite her to pet it. Nope! So, we move to the counter where the man demonstrates how the new wrench works. Clerks and other customers make a fuss and engage with my angel.

Back on the road…”The wheels on the bus go round and round,  round and round…”

Grocery time! Set her into the cart. She’s pointing at everything. “Whuh da?,” she says, the lift in her intonation signaling that, even though she has no conventional language, she is clearly asking a question. “That’s a cantaloupe! We had that for breakfast. You love cantaloupe, remember? It’s orange on the inside…like those orange carrots over there.” Every aisle offers a myriad of items that invoke her questions and opportunities for engaging answers.

Accompanying a loving family member running common errands offers a comprehensive education for little ones. There are seemingly unending cascades of new things and people to talk with and think about and explore. All the colors and sounds. All of the relational words. Dozens of opportunities for the baby to meet new people who are like and unlike her family in so many ways. Accents, sights and smells that fill the senses.

Back home for books-and-talk time … and a nap…for both of us!

Everyday experiences can compound to become critical early learning. With each experience, she’s a few steps closer to grasping fluent mother tongue and complex concepts.


The convenience of online shopping! Chain store websites, for stamps, scrolling through fashion trends, upcoming concerts and sports events. “I’ll be there in a sec, Hon!” Texting. Chatting with pals on the phone as you push her stroller, she is facing forward, no one engaging with her.

Quick jaunt to the grocery to pick up the order we filled out online while the baby was in her playpen. Drive up. Call in. Out comes the clerk who waves at your baby before loading our order in the car, then off we go.Stroller

Home again. “Can you work that puzzle, Sweetie?” Sharing photos with friends from the Super Bowl party…and that terrific video of the cat and the baby goat wrestling. “Almost time for your favorite show, Sweetie! Are you thirsty?” Clean and straighten the house while the little one gazes at the TV.

Bringing up a culturally comfortable and linguistically fluent child can be utterly exhausting.

Keeping her amused and seemingly happy all day is way easier.

To talk or not to talk. The choice is ours.

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9 Responses to “Choose Talk”

  1. Cary Larson-McKay February 16, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    Interesting that as a new mother I had to learn these things. I had my BA in child development when I had my twins. I finished my degree at almost the exactly same time as I found out I was pregnant (the student health center gave me an antibiotic for the “flu”–an aside, the
    antibiotic did not cure me….that took another 7 months and then we were surprised in the delivery room that there were actually TWO baby boys not just the one girl my husband had assumed that we were having. It is very strange to have the doctor delivering your baby to say “there is another one in there” instead of your have a beautiful baby boy–there was an adjustment period). Then I learned that the crossover between my professional self and my parent self was not as much as I had hoped (and I had been teaching parenting classes–wow!)

    Once the boys were home and I had to figure out what to do to be the parent I wanted to be I was mightily challenged. I knew that it was important that children from the beginning needed to be exposed to language and the world, that they needed to develop trust in the caregiving I was offering. I had no real practical clue on how to do that. I need to add, I am not the most chatty person in any given room–I tend to be a bit quiet. What to do?

    The only thing I could figure out as an action to take, and even this felt quite awkward, was to just talk about everything around us. What was to see out the window, what I was doing and any tools I was using, what I was going to do to/with them, describe any movement, temperature, wind, colors–it did not matter what, just talk about what was in our environment. Luckily as I did some additional research and began to remember what I had been teaching in the parenting classes I began to be more comfortable with the whole new parent thing.

    I am such a strong advocate for the ongoing “conversation” with genuine sharing of information and back and forth talking and listening that it has become something I share with almost any parent of infants and toddlers that I meet. So expect me to stop you on the streets and talk about talking with your child.

    From personal experience I know that talking to infants does not always come naturally and parents may need to know that it is not only okay to engage a new person in conversation but that it actually helps with several different developmental processes. This is also true for parents from cultures where it is not normal to engage an infant in conversation because of the assumptions about the usefulness of talking to someone that has nothing to contribute. Those parents can be encouraged to talk to and with and around their infants to expose them to the process of
    communication and the standards of interaction within the family. They are leaning all the time and a conscious effort to support language and communication skills is an investment in the future.

    • Mark Condon February 16, 2017 at 1:33 pm #

      Gosh Cary! You are so fabulous for sharing your personal story here. It says everything I had hoped to say and so much more. Thank you so much. You’ve got two very lucky boys there for getting to go home with you on day 1!

    • Shirley Radegonde February 20, 2017 at 1:09 am #

      Thanks for relating to us this very personal experience Cary…I am a mother of three children (they are grown ups now!)and i totally agree with you. Communicating almost anything and everything to my children was “an investment in the future”…though they will comment that i talk too much!!

  2. Koehler February 20, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    My daughter is now grown and my son is a junior in high school. I did not know anything about theory or the influence of talking to infants. However, I was told repeatedly that I should not hold and carry around my children so much. I am glad I did not listen. I carried my babies around all day long every day while doing household chores, cooking, going shopping, etc. While carrying them, I constantly talked out loud about what we were doing or what I was thinking etc. I found out from daycare that my daughter could read at three and the same for my son. I had no clue that either could read. I thought my daughter was just repeating what she heard while looking at a book. My son did not talk much, so imagine my surprise, when I was told he read to his friends at preschool. I was forced with both children by two different school districts to have them tested and then to skip at least one grade in school. Here is the caveat my children have different fathers, were born 15 years apart and went to completely different schools. I think it was the security of being allowed to sleep with me when they wanted, the closeness of being held, communicating with them from the day they were born, and giving them the freedom to try, think and do things for themselves.

    • Mark Condon February 20, 2017 at 9:04 am #

      Ms. Koehler, I love your story and your analysis! Thanks so much for sharing with us.

  3. Diana Hill February 21, 2017 at 4:56 am #

    A lovely piece to share with families. And it’s not just the literacy growth, it is the physical development of getting the child out of the car seat and baby carrier. Babies need to balance their heads, grasp, focus on a variety of distances, in short, as you said Mark, babies need to experience life.

    • Mark Condon February 21, 2017 at 9:08 am #

      Thanks for the kind words, Diana. This is why conversation around these offerings enriches. Your introduction of physical benefits to little ones adds wonderfully to my totally language and concept focus. I also brushed by the socialization benefits for tinies.

  4. Steve Cooke February 22, 2017 at 5:33 am #

    It is very important for parents to talk to their children from an early age.

    • Mark Condon February 22, 2017 at 8:27 am #

      Righto! As in starting on their BIRTHday, Steve.