Durable Human (2 book series)

Some babies are speaking less than babies did before COVID. Here’s how to get them talking.

Mom and Baby Point out toward waters of a river in South Carolina, USA

Everybody loves seeing babies wave bye-bye and say their first words. But those skills are coming more slowly to many babies born during the pandemic, according to new research in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Social isolation, household stress, and child or parent screen overuse are some reasons why experts believe babies may have had fewer face-to-face interactions at the height of COVID. As a result, the babies heard fewer words spoken by parents and other loved ones. They thus had “significantly less vocalizations” compared with babies born before the pandemic, says Brown University’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab.

“I’m seeing children with global delays; with deficits in really early pre-language skills like pointing, giving and reaching,” observes Rhode Island speech-language pathologist Alyssa Loberti.

Top U.K. Schools Inspector Amanda Spielman sees the implications of babies speaking and being spoken to less. “I’m particularly worried about younger children’s development, which, if left unaddressed, could potentially cause problems for primary schools down the line.”

Kids Bounce Back

Luckily, little kids are resilient and thrive with loving attention.

Babies and toddlers who can look at loved ones’ faces, practice “talking”, and hear plenty of spoken words are typically quick to learn language. They also get a boost in brain development, executive functioning, and social-emotional skills.

Proof comes from LENA Grow, a professional development program for early childhood teachers. The program uses “talk pedometer” technology to detect how much preschool teachers converse with their students. Teachers are then made aware of times in the day there is little talking and which students experience less conversation. 

When teachers step up their chatter, the results are impressive.

After a LENA Grow intervention at Sprout Five early learning program in Columbus, Ohio, teacher words spoken increased by 27% and conversational turns between teachers and students soared by 80%.  

Children in LENA Grow classrooms “significantly increased their language and literacy skills compared to those in non-Grow classrooms,” according to a Sprout Five project summary. Students became more engaged with classroom activities and teachers felt less stressed and more satisfied with their jobs.

Avoiding Speech Delay

Back-and-forth face-to-face talk is also crucial for young children at home.

At the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference, I caught up with Rebecca Parlakian, Senior Director of Programs for the non-profit ZERO TO THREE. Here’s her expert advice about what babies need (and don’t need) to learn to communicate:

It was ten years ago I first read research that the mere touch of a loving caregiver is enough to stoke a baby’s vocabulary. As I wrote then in The Durable Human Manifesto, iPads are not equipped to do that.

For more on helping your baby communicate and how to be a more effective, nurturing, and tech-aware parent, check out the Durable U online course, “Supercharge Your Baby’s Brain and Language Power.”

About the author: DurableHuman.com founder Jenifer Joy Madden is a certified digital wellness educator, health journalist, and mom of three grownup practicing durable humans. Download her ebook, The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World, then read  How to Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design.

Visit the Durable Human shop for digital wellness products.  

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