MD Mama

Look Who's (Not) Talking: Dads Need to Talk More With Their Babies


Did you know that on average, mothers talk almost three times more to babies than fathers do?

That's the finding of a study just released in the journal Pediatrics. And it's not just because mothers are taking care of the babies and fathers are at work. In the study, researchers had the parents put a recording device on the babies when both parents were home.

They did this in the hospital after babies were born, again when they were about a month old, and then at 7 months. What they found was interesting. Not only did moms talk to babies three times as much as dads, there was more back-and-forth communication between moms and babies than between dads and babies. And--this is important--moms talked slightly more to their daughters than their sons.

Some of this, to be fair, is hard-wired. Women literally are wired to communicate more and to be more responsive to social cues. And because girl babies (on average) learn to interact socially before boys do, it's not surprising that they communicate more--and that their mothers communicate more with them than their brothers. It's more fun to coo with a baby if they coo back, after all.

But it's the implications of this that we really need to think about. The fact is, the more words a child hears, the earlier they talk, the bigger their vocabulary--and the earlier they read, which can lead to future academic success and everything else that brings a child later in life. In a nutshell: The more words a young child hears from a caregiver (putting them in front of the TV doesn't count--the interaction is crucial), the better.

Many children, especially low-income children, don't hear very many words at all. In fact, poor children may hear 30 million words less than their more affluent schoolmates. This is the "word gap" that Hillary Clinton wants to tackle with her "Too Small to Fail" initiative: She wants to get more books into the hands of families so that children hear more words--and do better in school and in life.

But this study isn't about rich kids or poor kids. This is about parents, and what they can do. When I read it, I thought: This is about what dads can--and should--do.

Talk to your babies and toddlers. Take it up a notch. As tempting as it might be to leave it to Mom, don't. Have your own conversations. Talk about the things you like to do, talk about your day, about the food you are eating and the things you see around you. If your baby makes a noise, make one back. Be playful. Babies and toddlers love it. And when Baby is having fun, you might just find yourself having fun too.

You don't need to imitate Mom--do it your way. That's better. In fact, fathers tend to ask more "what" and "where" questions--which can encourage an even bigger vocabulary and different ways of thinking.

If you do this, you will increase the number of words your child hears--and set them up better for future language and success. It's particularly important to do it with boys, who tend to talk later and less than baby girls, and read later--since fathers interact more with their sons, they may be the perfect people to help close this particular gender gap.

So give it a try. Don't let it be that Mom is talking to Baby three times more than you. If you are already doing it, encourage your friends with babies to do it too.

Remember: The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.

Photo credit: 2009 Adam Selwood, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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