As Director of The Communication Trust I’d like to think my commitment to the cause is pretty clear. However, I feel that I have gone above and beyond in demonstrating my commitment to the issue by conspiring to have my latest child on the 1 March – day one of Talk to Your Baby month and a key date in the National Year of Communication.
Do I talk to my baby? Of course. My first word was naturally ‘Hello’ and baby Joshua gets much input daily - from a terrible rendition of Twinkle Twinkle to long treatises on the state of the British media and the pros and cons of the Royal Wedding. We have just started baby signing (thank you to all those who sent us wonderful resources) and speaking to the baby was a factor in our pram choice (that and I liked the colour orange.)
We tick all the boxes for model parents (we even turn the TV off sometimes and we are not giving him a Nintendo DS until he is at least a year) and we encourage lots of talking time with grandparents and siblings.
But talking is the relatively easy bit. Maybe the month should have been titled ‘listen to your baby’ because, as the mother of two pre-teen girls as well as a new born, I think this is where the real challenge is.
From day one Joshua has communicated with us. The little piggy grunts from his first minutes as he tried to find dinner and the little whimpers of satisfaction when the search was successful – a pattern of noises repeated at every feed. The cry that means ‘wind me now and I am about to vomit on your shoulder’ is totally different to the command to ‘change my nappy’. And, reflecting the fact that sounds are not the only way to communicate, we have responded to his facial grimaces (many and varied) and his range of wiggles and hand shakes (lots of wiggling hands means 'watch out I am about to fill my nappy' and one arm above his ahead means 'I am doing my final pre sleep stretch').
All this and he is only six weeks old. So much to hear and to understand already.
As parents it is essential to be an effective listener. Not only does it avoid many problems from an early age - very messy giving Joshua a feed when he was making nappy changing signals - modelling good listening skills is key to helping our children develop their own ability to listen. I have always thought listening (and with it understanding) is the poor relation when considering speech and language ability. It is much harder to spot effective listening - everyone knows their child’s first word but few would recall the first word that their child heard and understood.
So – we are listening to Joshua carefully and doing all we can to help develop his own skills. Lots of reading, rhymes and different sounds against limited background noise to help him refine his listening and lots of fun listening games (www.literacytrust.org.uk has some good ideas). I am watching like a hawk for evidence of his the first word that he hears and understands and we will celebrate this on a par with his first spoken word – anyone want to make a prediction as to what it might be?