Once you have a baby in your house, you can expect to kiss one thing goodbye for a long time to come-silence! It starts with wails of hunger, sirens to announce that it's time to change the diaper or simply attention-seeking howls. Your child begins communicating with you almost as soon they enter your world. And there's good reason to join in the storm of sounds they kick up. A 2013 research by Stanford shows that children who are exposed to more one-on-one conversations by their parents have larger vocabularies by the time they are two years old, as compared to kids who hear words from other sources like the TV.
Every parent wonders when their baby will utter their first word and what it will be. There's no one right answer. Some babies begin speaking as early as 8 months whereas some hardly speak until they are a couple of years old. Both situations are normal. However, we've mapped out some general speech milestones for the first year of your child's life.
Up to 4 months: At this stage, babies love hearing the sound of your voice because it is familiar and comforting in an otherwise alien world. Research has proven that foetuses start developing a short-term memory for sound as early as in the 30th week of pregnancy. By the 34th week, a foetus develops a long-term memory for sound. All the talking to the womb? Your baby actually remembers your voice post birth.
Tip: This is a great time to start reading to your child or even introduce them to music. This not only soothes, but also introduces them to different sounds they can get familiar with as they grow up.
4 to 7 months: At this stage, your little one is experimenting with sound. Help them string together simple sounds like 'ma-ma' or 'da-da'. While they might still not associate the sound to you, that understanding will develop very soon. Around this time, your baby will start responding when you use her name and recognise the tone of your voice. She will know if you're upset or happy depending on the pitch of your voice.
Tip: Since the ability to associate words with objects and people will kick in soon, help them identify objects by using the right word for it.
One-year mark: At this stage, she is associating words with objects and people. For example, at this age, 'mama' isn't a sound she's picked up, 'mama' means YOU. She will also start following simple instructions like 'no touching' or 'sit down'. Around this time, she will start expressing feelings and labelling them with your help, like when she is feeling 'happy' when you kiss her or 'full' when she's done eating.
Tip: A good way to practise speech as well as increase your little one's vocabulary is by helping them label feelings like fear, danger, happiness, anger. Apart from honing their speech skills, it will help them in unfamiliar situations. They are less likely to feel anxious or misunderstood because they know how to communicate their feelings.
The next few years will be a significant learning curve for your child. She will start pick up on non-verbal cues in addition to verbal ones. You will see her go from two-word sentences to endless questions on why the moon only rises at night. And even though the questions might increasingly baffle you, no amount of silence can ever replace the joy of a happily chattering child!