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Helping your children with early word development

Good interaction between parent and child plays role in vocabulary development

BOSTON, Mass – Parents are often looking for ways to lay a strong foundation for school and make sure their babies and toddlers are off to a good start.

Now new research suggests that the quality of interaction between parent and child may play an important role in vocabulary development in a child’s first years.

When it comes to helping children learn words, parents know there’s nothing like a few minutes with a favorite book.

“Every night we read to him and we make sure we read to him several time a day,” parent Kelli Gleiner told Ivanhoe.

But is simply reading out loud to a child enough to foster word development in his or her first few years? Research suggests there might be more to it.

Catherine Ayoub is a consulting developmental psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Ayoub and her colleagues studied 146 parents and children who were enrolled in Early Head Start. Researchers went into homes and videotaped their interactions at 12 months, 24 months, and 36 months and counted the words babies said.

“We really found that the most important parenting contribution to the child’s development of language was parental sensitivity,” Ayoub said.

Meaning are parents picking up on their child’s cues? The research suggests being attentive to a child’s needs in a warm, loving way is associated with a higher number of words that he or she speaks, especially early on.

As children become toddlers, parents’ teaching activities become more important. So parents, make sure you let your child lead your interactions. If he shows interest in another activity, explore it. Describe and narrate the world around you. Name the objects you see, what they are and where they go.

“There’s a direct link between the stimulating behavior and vocabulary," Ayoub said. "Also there’s a direct link between the parental sensitivity and vocabulary.”

Together, these work best. The researchers said it’s especially important for parents to teach children things that are appropriate for their developmental level, when their child is around 36 months. Sensitivity is especially important around the first year of life.