Talk to your children

Published On: March 16, 2019 01:59 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

Parents should regularly involve their children in family conversation at home because that helps in children’s brain development

Remember the time you uttered nonsensical “goo-goo-gaa- gaa” to your newborn baby while tickling their hands or feet, and your happiness, when your baby giggled back almost like responding to you?  That’s your baby talking back to you. As they became bigger, you mimicked, made faces just to see them laugh and jump around and imitate you.  

You put in an effort to make them happily respond to you. Most parents know that talking to their children helps their development. Helps them to shape up as an adult, so far as their dealings with others are concerned. What was not clear was that it took more than talking to them to make an impact on a different level altogether.  A recent study conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed that the manner in which you talk to your child is a key to your child’s brain growth.

What studies say    
According to the new study, the manner in which you converse with your child helps in a big way as to how their brain develops. This was a revelation, following a previous seminal study done during 1995, that suggested children from well-off backgrounds were exposed to 30 million more words by the time they were three years old than those from poorer families. This 30 million-word gap made a difference in children’s tests of vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension.These findings led the scientists to believe that children from different background would have different development trajectories.

But the new MIT research suggests it’s the direction of the conversation and the variety of subjects parents cover during conversation that makes the difference and not the number of words used. The cognitive scientists at MIT found out that conversation between an adult and a child has an impact enough to change their brain. Their findings clearly indicated that by simply engaging children in conversation, parents have the potential to considerably influence the way their children’s language and brain develop.

The study dealt with children between four and six age group.  In this study they found that differences in the number of “conversational turns” accounted for a large portion of the differences in brain physiology and language skills they found among the children. This finding applied to children regardless of their parents’ level of income or education.

Talk more  
Talking with our children is not very common in Nepal. We talk to them but often do not have conversations with children at home.  We rather send them off to play school as soon as they reach the age of being admitted. We feel the school is responsible for our child’s well being. This continues even as the children grow up.  

We all mean good, so far as children are concerned.  We are all guilty of bombarding our children with information of all kinds hoping to help their learning process. Not realizing that talking with them makes a bigger impact on their brain.  Having a good old-fashioned conversation makes a whole lot of difference so far a child’s brain development is concerned.  Old-fashioned conversations remind me of rare times I spent with my maternal grandparents in Assam.   

By the time I met my grandmother she had already lost her eyesight. I still remember her spending most of her time lying down on a bench that had a backrest on the porch.  When she heard children around her, she would call and say, ‘come let’s talk’ and if we did not respond then she would further entice us with her promise of telling wonderful stories.  Her stories were usually very intriguing, as they mostly related to British India days and fights for democracy in India.  

There would be plenty of ‘and then what happened’ questions from our side as we moved closer to her. Some even climbed and sat on the space that was left beside her.  She would be talking with us for hours. She would be happy, and we would be rich with all the wonderful stories.  Some of her stories made us cry and some made us laugh and some were pure ridiculous, almost on the verge of being a fantasy but they were all true.  It was her compulsion to engage in conversation with children, because, she was confined to one place and very few people stopped by and talked with her.  

Now that I think about it, she had been doing tremendous service to our parents by keeping us engaged and at the same time stimulating our brains with her conversations.  What the Westerners are finding out now, most likely we had been practicing for some time in the past.  Though we did not do it with a purpose in mind, it sure made a difference in the way we acted after conversations with our grandmother.  These interactions were so intriguing I still remember her stories even after sixty years.  

One thing that stuck with me was the fact that it was ok to have conversations with young ones. I also understood the joy of playing with them and being engaged in light banter.  All these activities brought back days spent as a child talking with my grandmother. I continued my interest of talking with little children.  I was often teased for spending more time talking to children. 

Later I had the most fun with my children. When in the US, I always found time to spend with them. For me my children were my first priority to the point that I adjusted my schedule around their need. I put in a lot of effort so we could have topics for conversations. I even read the same books they did, so I could relate to their conversations. I was their cartoon-watching partner. 

After reading the research findings from MIT, I realized that all the back and forth conversations with my children had in fact helped them boost their brain development and language skills. During these conversations I talked less and let them talk more. That sure helped them more.  Relying on the findings of the study, I can now proudly say that all that talking back and forth with my children were magical times that influenced the biological growth of their brain. So parents I suggest you to maintain a regular practice of involving your children in family conversation at home because that too is associated with brain development in children.  Just keep in mind how talking to your children changes their brain. Now that is not very difficult, right parents?

Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books

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