Parents long to see their children succeed, and many go to great lengths to help them along the journey. It is a constant effort, always teaching and encouraging. Vast amounts of time can be spent researching the most educational toys and finding the best area schools. Sometimes, however, the answer is simple, and something we participate in naturally: conversation.
“Empty” Conversation is Anything But
Seeing a smiling, cooing baby will instinctively cause an adult to lean towards the child and start a conversation. Even though the words aren’t understood, the need to talk to the baby is too compelling. Being rewarded with a huge grin or giggle only reinforces that.
On the surface, it looks like playtime. However, researchers are finding the implications of those conversational interactions to be pivotal, affecting the biology of the child’s brain. MIT cognitive scientists shared their recent findings after conducting a study on the long-term effects of words and conversation as a child grows, and it goes deeper than the original word gap discovery.
Beyond the Word Gap
A study done in 1995 by Stanfield University researchers showed that by the age of 3, there is typically a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. This indicated that children in more affluent homes had a more expansive vocabulary, benefitting them later in their educational journey.
Through more research, the MIT scientists found that it is not simply a lack of vocabulary, but less conversation overall that is making the difference. While there may be various reasons this conversation is lacking at home, the fact remains that parents have considerable influence over a child’s language and brain development through communication.
The good news is that regardless of income, simply making a focused effort to talk and interact with your children increases their chances of doing better cognitively. This, along with structure and healthy family relationships, will help build their future.
Conversation and the Brain
These conversational studies have recently been backed up with more scientific observations. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers found greater activity in the part of the brain responsible for speech and language processing when the child was listening to stories.
Both studies found the number of back-and-forth conversations at home correlated strongly with test scores. The difference in higher test scores wasn’t in the amount of words a child heard, but the number of conversational turns a child participates in, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Another study links the conversational interactions to a higher IQ. Participating in conversations with a child between the ages of 18-24 months can mean 14-24% higher scoring on not just IQ tests, but also comprehension and vocabulary tests.
Taking those extra moments to engage with your child can make a difference that lasts a lifetime. Talking with, and not just to your baby boosts brain activity and provides a strong foundation for the future. Regardless of intellectual benefit, talking with your child is such a simple yet profound way to show your love and attention.
For more tips about helping your child’s growth and development, or for other concerns regarding your child’s health, please contact us.