Talking to Your Baby

Talk to your babyAs a first-time mom, I had no idea what to do with my baby. The second time around was easier, but I still needed a ton of help. With that pregnancy, I had an amazing doula who passed on a ton of wisdom. Some of the things she told me sounded quirky, but I did them anyway because it seemed like a good idea. The more time that passes since then, the more I am realizing the truths of what she told me.

One of the things she emphasized was talking to my baby. Like, really talking to her. Telling her what I was going to do before I did it. Asking permission to do things like lay her down or change a diaper. Narrating the things we were doing to together.

Today, there are studies that suggest asking permission can help develop a sense of body autonomy, or the idea that you have ultimate control over your own body. This is a huge concept lately because of the highly publicized sexual crimes against women and children, and the idea that teaching kids to give over control to adults can erode this sense that they have control over the most intimate parts of themselves. Teaching body autonomy means that kids know from day one what parts are private and that no one has the right to touch them in a way—any way—that they aren’t comfortable with. Part of this means you don’t make children physically interact with people if they don’t want to and that you stop when they say “no” or “stop” even if you are tickling or roughhousing for fun.

You can begin teaching body autonomy from day one by asking your baby if you can change his or her diaper, and announcing what you are doing during the process. When babies are nonverbal, you don’t need to get a response before acting, but it’s important that you ask. I remember being so surprised when each of my children responded to my rhetorical questions each time by laying down for a change or saying, “OK!”

Besides teaching body autonomy, talking to your baby has other benefits. Babies whose parents talk to them have larger vocabularies, and this can help boost their ability to learn at age 3. And the more words, the better. Remember that you don’t have to read baby books to babies. You can read the New Yorker, Us Magazine, your favorite blog, or whatever you are reading. What’s important is not the content but the word variety.

Either out of an ingrained sense of this or the loneliness that sometimes is part of being a stay-at-home mom, I got used to narrating my grocery store trips. Now my kids know the names of every fruit and vegetable, but be warned that it’s a hard habit to break. You’ll often find me wandering the aisles childless, muttering, “Oh! We forgot the tomato sauce! Have to go back!” to no one in particular.

Finally, talking to your baby can help build a secure attachment bond with your baby. In addition to things like learning your baby’s cues and responding to your baby’s needs, talking to baby helps build a bond in a way that doesn’t over stimulate or wear them out. In fact, you may just look down into your carrier and realize our baby has fallen asleep listing to your voice. I found it helpful to voice my feelings to baby when I was frustrated with my baby. It’s almost like therapy.

The best thing about talking to your baby is there’s nothing special you need to do. Just talk. Talk about your fears and hopes for them. Tell them your secrets. Talk about your grocery list. Tell them a story or tell them how they were born. Just talk to them.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls, ages 6, 3.5 and 2 years old, who lives in Queensbury, New York. She talks to her baby when she can get a word in, which isn’t too often anymore.

 

Tags: attachment, body autonomy, bonding, talking

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