By Guest Blogger Maryrose Nelson
As parents, you are your baby’s world. Did you know that in utero an infant starts to perceive its parents’ voices as early as fifteen weeks gestation? Your voices are some of the first sounds your child hears, and it is a substantial part of their experience. You connect with your child through your voice, and the connection only grows as they enter this world.
Children learn language and communication skills from birth, and it happens primarily through the relationship between caregiver and child. When you talk and engage with your child, you connect with your child as they learn about the world and life. Babies and young children understand the emotion and meaning behind sounds before they understand concrete meaning behind words, so music is an incredible tool for connecting and bonding with your child and for learning about the world. Board-certified music therapists know this from their research and practice, and researchers at Harvard have also found this to be a critical part of child development. These researchers have developed what they call The Basics: five simple things parents and caregivers can do to maximize the critical developmental time in the first three years of life.
Talk, Sing and Point
One of The Basics is Talk, Sing and Point. At the heart of this is that the more you connect with your child through talking, singing, and meaningful expressive gestures, the more your baby is going to not only learn and grow, but also to develop an attachment to you that is healthy, secure and trusting. This sets them up well for a healthy emotional and developmental transition into childhood and beyond.
You may be wondering, “Okay I have this tiny person, but it’s not like they’re going to talk to me about the weather.” You may also be thinking, “Well I’m not very musical, so why would I sing to my baby?”
Tune In to Your Baby
But remember that the research shows that your voice is the most significant part of your baby’s world, and it anchors them to every resource that they need for growing and developing. And because they are concerned about the emotion and meaning within your voice and in general all things you, they do not care what you are singing or saying or communicating with them about: it just matters that you are. Your child is soaking in everything that you say and do like a sponge, and they are lapping up every interaction that they have with you.
True: Your baby may not respond with comments about the weather or sing back the lyrics of the Itsy Bitsy Spider with perfect articulation. But the process is still a two-way street when you tune into what your baby is communicating through their sounds, gestures and facial expressions. You can mirror the sounds that your baby makes, point and talk about what you’re doing, and make sure that you give them the space to process and respond.
Talk, Sing and Be Silly
Even mundane daily tasks can be opportunities for connection and learning. For example, when you are picking out clothes for the day, you can talk with your baby about the process. Talk about which clothes you have chosen or include them in the choice, what you need to do to put them on, the colors and textures, point to them and name them. You can even incorporate singing into the mix with special songs or even just making up songs about whatever you are doing. It may feel silly to you, but babies love silly, so own it!
Songs can be a helpful part of daily routines like bath time or diaper changes. As an example, some people like to use the song “Splish Splash” by Bobby Darin for bath time. Songs like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Twinkle Twinkle” can be wonderful in a wind-down process. Songs can help communicate to your child what to expect and can help them prepare for what’s next, whether it’s a bath, a diaper change, nap time, or something else.
Being a parent is the journey of a lifetime, and you can deepen the connection with your child when you Talk, Sing and Point!
Maryrose Nelson, MT-BC, CD(DONA), is a Board-Certified Music Therapist at Voices Together working in neurodivergent classrooms across North Carolina.
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