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Talking To Your Baby: Does It Boost IQ?

Updated on June 8, 2009

Believe it or not, one of the most important things you can do for your baby or toddler is to talk to him or her!

This simple action has profound effects on your child's future development. Studies have shown that children whose parents and other caregivers talk frequently to them consistently earn higher scores on IQ tests and perform better in school than children whose parents and caregivers talked to them infrequently or not at all.

Talking to children may not actually raise their IQ, but it does allow them to reach their full intellectual potential. Even children with unusually low IQs or other developmental problems can show significant improvement.

Some scientists even believe that different parental speech habits in early childhood may account for a significant percentage of race and class-based differences in IQ levels and academic performance. Children of white professional parents hear an average of 30 million words spoken by the age of 3, while black children raised on welfare hear an average of only 10 million words by the same age. Years before they even enter school, these children are already at a disadvantage. Most will never catch up.

How To Talk To Babies and Toddlers

There have been a number of important studies recently demonstrating the benefits of what researchers now call "parentese" - the high-pitched and exaggerated "baby talk" most people slide naturally into around young infants.

However, parents are also encouraged to talk normally to their babies. in particular, you can start to build vocabulary and an understanding of cause-and-effect by describing actions.

Instead of simply changing your baby's diaper, keep up a running monologue as you work, explaining what you are doing and announcing what you are about to do. For example:

"Phew, looks like we need to change you! Let's come over here to your changing table. Hmm, almost out of diapers! Looks like we'll have to go to the store pretty soon. Okay, I'm going to unsnap your onesie now. Here we go. Yup, it was definitely time to change your diaper! I'm going to wipe you off now. Ooh, sorry. Was that cold? There, I'm done now. Time you put your new diaper on! Look, it's Big Bird! What pretty yellow feathers he has. Okay, I'm going to lift you up a little so I can get the diaper underneath. Good job. Okay, time to snap you back up! We're done!"

As the baby grows older and more alert, there will be more and more opportunities for this kind of chatter.

"Time for your snack! Do you want a pear or some zwieback? Yum, I like pears better too. What a pretty yellow color it is. Okay, Mommy's going to peel it and cut it up for you so you can eat it. Here you go! Six slices, ready to eat! Can I have one please? Oh thank you, it's very nice of you to share."

Sometimes, it feels a little ridiculous keeping up a running monologue with a baby that can't answer and may not respond at all, but the more you talk, the more natural it feels, and the older the child grows, the more he or she will respond.

As the child grows older, allow him or her to direct conversation topics sometimes. When toddlers first begin talking, this may require a bit of smiling and nodding and "That's very interesting!" conversation fillers, since they often babble incomprehensibly about nothing in particular. If the child becomes insistent or upset, however, politely ask him to repeat himself - he may be trying to make a request. If you still don't understand after two or three repeats, ask him to show you what he wants... if he's not already dragging you toward whatever it is!

Outside the home, point out interesting things to your toddler and use plenty of concrete descriptive words to describe them. For example, a trip throught the produce aisle of your local grocery store makes a great vocabulary lesson that can incorporate not only food words, but also colors, shapes, and other associations.

"Okay, let's look at our list. We need some apples, carrots, and broccoli. Oh, look at what pretty red apples they have. Let's pick a few out. You like apples, don't you? They're pretty yummy, especially with peanut butter and raisins. Remember last week when we did that for your snack? How about we have some more tomorrow. Okay, now for some carrots. Here's a nice bag. What a bright orange color they are. Ooh, these tomatoes look awfully nice too. Nice and red, just like the apples. What else is the same? They're both kind of the same shape, see? Nice and round. Okay, broccoli time..."

Photo by Gracie and Viv
Photo by Gracie and Viv

Don't Forget to Read!

Reading out loud is a form of speech, too, and it is never too early to start reading to your baby, though in practice many parents wait until the baby is a few weeks or months old. By the time a baby is old enough to sit in your lap and hold up her own head, you should definitely be reading to her.

Focus on books with rhymes, actions you can do together, and/or interesting pictures that you can discuss together. My daughter's favorite author for much of her infancy and toddlerhood was Sandra Boynton, who has (generally) rhyming text with cute pictures and lots of animals. Even as a very young baby, she thought it was hilarious when Mommy and Daddy scrunched up their faces to moo like a cow or bark like a dog.

Even if you don't like reading yourself (or even just dislike reading out loud - I do!), sharing at least one story every day is a sacrifice that will pay off tremendously in the long run. Reading together is an especially good activity for bedtime.


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    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Kerryg: Great hub! I concur a centillion percent. I have always known that parents who communicate effectively, intelligently, and often with their children have children who are more likely to be early talkers and have high IQs. However, many parents are TOO LAZY to practice this.I know a lot of parents whose children were late talkers and they fault the children, not themselves.

      As I talk to the parents more in-depth, it was discovered that the parents spent little time communicating and interfacing with their toddler in teaching him/her how to talk. They often communicated with him/her in baby talk and do the perfunctory parental duties with him/her.

      They often do not read to and played creative and educatonal games with him/her, stating that "they do not have the time" or "they are too tired." Guess what? Make the time! You had him/her and he/she is your responsibility! Parenting is not a part-time job or done when you are up to it!

      Parenting is consistent and ongoing! If you do not have the maturity to be parents, do not sign up for the job! Parenting involves the teaching and educational aspects besides the physical responsibilities of parenting. Thank you, great hub!

    • bonny2010 profile image

      bonetta hartig 7 years ago from outback queensland

      talking to them and reading to them is a must - communication increases their IQ and their sense of security - it also works with animals though some people will argue against that one

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Many people don't realize how much of an impact that the talking has. It is huge!

    • Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

      Tatjana-Mihaela 8 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

      Communication so positevely influence developing intelligence - not only IQ, also EQ as well.

      Very useful article for parents...

    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 8 years ago from West Coast

      Kerry, This is very interesting. I never really used "parentese" with my children. But I did talk to them normally and of course read to them.