Monday, December 1, 2014

Encouraging Language Development in Your Infant

L has his 9 month check up tomorrow and since he was a month early we get developmental questionaires in the mail to track how he's developing. They send them a month behind based on how early he was. So here I am filling this thing out with S and I'm reading these questions thinking wait a minute my kid is supposed to be doing what?

I remember back when he was first born and I sat there looking at this little 6 pound 3 ounce bundle thinking how am I going to do this (I suffer from depression to begin with and it only got worse during and after pregnancy). I just read like crazy on what to do, not to do, how to keep kids healthy, prevent SIDS, and on and on the list went. At that point it was all about keeping him alive and healthy and I worried every day that something was going to happen to him. I was the first time mom handing out hand sanitizer every time someone even came in the same room during the first three months.

Fast forward to 6 months old and now I constantly worry that he's not developing like he should be. He wants to put the dog's tail in his mouth? Fantastic, go for it (I do actually try to stop this when I can, but I'm sure it's not going to be the first or last time). Hand sanitizer? No idea where it is. But when I watch babies two months younger than him crawling or pulling themselves up, I sit and wonder what is going on with my own child. Am I doing something wrong? Should I be doing things different? Should I be calling the doctor? In my mind I know the answer to all of the above questions is no, each child develops differently and at their own pace. Knowing that, I still feel there are things that can be done to encourage development.

Forward a little more to now and I am constantly looking up ways to encourage crawling, walking, eating by himself, and language development. I figured I would start with language development since L has been chatty since the day he was born and I thought it would be a good starting off point. I still work with him every day on the other things, but thought I would share my language findings first.

At the end of the post I will list links to all of my sources of this wonderful information, as well as a link to reccomended language development toys. I also include a link to a chart from Infographic that shows milestones by age and red flags, I'm not going to go into that here because yes your child should be hitting certain milestones at certain times, but dwealing on those specific of ages can be counter productive and each child develops at their own rate. If you are truely concerned that your child is behind you should contact your peditriciation, don't google like I would it makes things worse, far worse.

To start off you really have to know the dynamics of speech and language. The difference between speech and language is that speech is the making of sounds and language is our system of using words to communicate. Basically speech alone has no meaning, it's just sounds. Language includes how we use speech and formulate sentences.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) the most dramatic developmental growth occurs in infancy, by eight months alone brain synapses have increased from 50 trillion to 1,000 trillion! That is huge to me. They really are just little sponges, but without someone taking the time to teach them and help them develop what are they really learning? The APA states that environmental factors influence the infant's developing brain significantly during the first year of life. An infant's brain development is linked to their daily experiences with parents and caregivers during all aspects of their day. Routines are important as well as they provide consistintcy and predictability which in turn helps baby anticipate and trust his or her environment.

So what are some of the things parents can do to help their children? Glad you asked because I found a whole bunch of ideas I am just dying to share.

Of all the sites I went to one thing was exactly the same on all of them: Read to your child! All of the sites I visited stated this and each one had added tips to do well reading to your child. Pointing out pictures, naming and pointing to the animals or people, stating the names of colors, paying attention to what your child is focused on and talking about it, etc. I will typically read at least one book a day to L, but once I read about really going through the pictures and foucusing on what he is focusing on it really made it more interactive for both of us. Not to mention it took it from being a quick five minute activity to sometimes a 20 minute activity, which just means more language exposure for him.
Reading can also help in future development: book handling helps fine motor skills, children that are read to on a regular basis tend to read faster than children who are not, they tend to develop more empathy towards others, and increase their vocabulary.

Web MD says that the size of a 2 year old's vocabulary is directly related to how much the child is talked to starting at infancy. With that they recommend going through your whole day and telling baby exactly what you're doing (e.g., "Mommy is putting the noodles in the pot." or "Daddy is driving the car."). Now I will do that sometimes with L (usually when I am getting perturbed by the dogs or cooking, e.g., "Mommy is not very happy with the puppy today." or "Mommy would rather have a cheeseburger than a salad."), but I tend to find it slightly obnoxious and would rather read to him than feel like I'm talking at him. If you do this and it works, awesome, each parent really has to find what fits and works for them.

Play with your child. Sit on the floor next to them and talk about what they are doing, their favorite toy, the colors, the shapes, the size, what have you. With L I will sit with him and if he grabs a rattle and starts shaking, I grab another one and shake right along with him while saying shake or rattle. Really it's just about getting down to their level and playing with them. Also by doing this they are able to see your facial expressions and your hand gestures which also help in language development.

Don't use the TVsitter. This is kind of a hard one for me since the house feels way too quiet at times with out any background noise. This problem is actually solved with another tip I will get to. The philosophy behind not having the TV on or having your infant watch TV is that no one is interacting with your child. Now I'm just going to say this and a lot of people will probably disagree with me, but everyone is entitled to their opinion so bring it on, but I let my 9 month old watch TV. Not for long periods of time and usually only educational shows (sometimes mommy just wants to watch Grey's Anatomy and L isn't ready for bed yet), but I'm also there interacting with him. During shows like Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood or his favorite Peg + Cat (I can't stand the show but he actually enjoys the music) I'm sitting with him in my lap responding to the characters, pointing out people or animals, singing along with the songs, helping him clap his hands along with the show, etc. Now on the positive side the AAP recognizes that you may not be able to cut out TV completely so they advise no more than 2 hours a day or less for children. I keep it at roughly an hour a day at most.

Sing. Babies and toddlers love music! Simple songs are best especially if they rhyme, like Old McDonald, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, ABC's. I have a whole playlists just for playtime, dancing, nap time and free play. This becomes my solution for most of the day to help with the lack of background noise. I just have him sit in my lap or we sit on the floor clap our hands and sing along. Raffi, Disney, Rockabye Baby, Jewel's Lullabies, Enya (I've even started to sleep better when I play this one to fall asleep to) are some of my favorites, but for certain times just about anything you like will do. Usually while I'm cooking dinner I plop L in his jumper and crank some tunes and we dance and I sing along. I must have played quite a bit of Queen while I was pregnant because even to this day (especially when he was first born though) Bohemian Rhapsody is the only thing that will calm him down if he is overly tired or just cranky in general. Wed MD, the AAP, and the CDC all state that a babies language development starts in the womb so it's never too early to play music or read to baby.

Watch their hands and actions. Babies and toddlers understand more words than they can actually say, so while they may not be able to tell you what they want a lot of times they will show you. By watching where they are pointing or things that catch their eye you have the opportunity to put a name to it for them. We live on the corner of a fairly busy street and have a large window facing it, I'll sit with L and just watch what he is looking at and name it. "Oh that's a large white truck." or "That's a very noisy black truck." Same thing when we go to the store (I probably look like a crazy person), "Should we get green apples or red apples?"

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Have you ever noticed the more times you do an activity with baby the more they pick up on it? I never realized how important repetition is to development until I saw it in action. Every night when S gets home from work he puts L to bed, once he's got a clean diaper and jammies on S would clap and say yay. After about a week of doing this I was sitting with L talking to his Aunt and said yay to something she said, I look down and L is clapping his hands together. I was amazed! For a while after that he would do it whenever he saw someone else do it, but he apparently has gotten bored of that and now does it randomly (like when the opposing team gets a touchdown, no buddy no). The same concept goes for all development, the more you sing the same song or read the same book the more they are retaining it. I used to babysit my second cousin and whenever I would he would want me to read the same book over and over again, it drove me nuts at 14 so one day after having read it 4 times already I started skipping over parts and pages. That kid had that book down flat (he was 5 at the time), he stopped me after I skipped a part and says very indignantly "You are not reading it right!" From that point on I could never skip any words or pages.

Surround your child's environment with learning opportunities. Display books, label items at their level, get abc blocks, all of these not only help with language development they also set your child up for future reading skills.

Use real words. I am so guilty of not doing this! I must say though I was much worse before I had my own child, oh how the tables have changed now. With my friends children I would say cute little baby words while kissing their toes even when one of my friends said she would rather I didn't baby talk to her son (I stopped shortly after that, but still thought it was silly). Now I totally get it, I want my child to understand that a cup is a cup not a cuppy or that he has feet not feeties. I still use some baby language with him like ba-ba for bottle because that is something he can and will be able to say sooner than bottle. Hopefully by the time he can actually say bottle he won't need to since he won't be having one (if I'm lucky). By using real words you are helping your baby expand his or her vocabulary and learn the proper term for something.

Give baby sign language a try. This has received some controversy from people stating that it actually delays their language development since they don't have to speak. I don't believe that and neither does the AAP or Wed MD. According to Web MD teaching sign language to babies 6 months and older helps them express their wants and needs when they can't talk and it gives you another way to bond with your child. To me baby sign language is just another tool in helping your child express themselves and to help them communicate with you. I have witnessed baby sign language in a daycare I worked at and by knowing what the child wants you can verbally express that to them. They would sign all done or more and I would respond by saying "Oh Jimmy are you all done?" or "What would you like more of Jimmy?" then point to the food on his plate until he signed more again. I've done a few signs with L but haven't been as repetitive as I should be with it, so we are still working on that.

Talk to your pediatrician. One of the things I read that I never would have thought of is feeding issues. If your child is having issues eating or with coordination while eating it can actually lead to issues in current and future language development.

Change your tone and pitch. Talk through a teddy bear or other stuffed animal and give it a fun voice. Copy the same pitch as your child, if they're squeaky be squeaky or if they have a deep tone repeat it back to them. Granted you want to be a bit careful with tone too as I learned today. L has and can say mama, but is on quite a dada kick. Everything is dada, and while I know that at his age he doesn't quite associate S as being dada it still stings a bit when you've changed 6 blowouts in a day and all he can give you is a da da da da. So today after reading our book I turn him to face me and have a good ole chat and out comes the da da da all the while he is smacking me in the chest. I say back to him "no mama", he continues doing the same thing so I say it again. He becomes excited and starts screaming DA DA DA DA again hitting my chest, so in the same fun tone he used I say MA MA MA. All of a sudden he gets quiet, then comes the look and the lip and if you have kids you know what comes next, the cry. He just starts wailing, I felt awful and at the same time am chuckling that he got so upset (I'm probably an awful person but it's what happens on lack of sleep). So with that fun story play with tone and pitch, but also watch your child for non-verbal cues they are not having it.

Take care of yourself. It is so so so much easier to help your child learn and develop new skills if you are well rested (not easy for all myself included), healthy and emotionally present. Also don't beat yourself up for the bad days, the days you maybe read a book and that's it. They happen to all of us and on days like that I just try to remind myself one day is not going to stunt my child's development. Supermom I am most certainly not, there are days that I have dishes on every surface of my kitchen, laundry stacked 3 baskets deep and I only slept 3 hours the night before. I would like to say I tell myself that I will tackle it the next day and I actually do, but most times that is not the case. I would much rather spend the energy and time with my child and know that the house can wait another day (I swear I clean).

Next to work on for us is sleep, since apparently L doesn't like it as much as mommy and daddy. Stay tuned for that post as I try to find the best method to actually keep L asleep all night.
As always if you have any tips you would like to share, funny stories, insight, corrections or just want to say hello leave a comment!

Here are some of the recommended toys I found at many sites to help with language development:

As promised all the links to my sources and a fun chart link:

Web MD
Parents Magazine
Parents Magazine
Busy Bug She has a whole series on language development!
Trust Me, I'm a Mom
Baby Sign Language This one I actually didn't pull any information from for the post but it is an awesome site if you are wanting to do baby sign language!

The link for the milestone chart can be found here.

Update: Can now be seen on Time Warp Wife