Beyond kitchie-koo: Hospital teaches how to communicate with babies

May 18, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Linda Calin points out trucks, buses and bicycles when she is out and about with her 21-month-old son. But she's had no luck in coaxing him to repeat the words.

"I want to find ways to get him to talk," said the Columbia mother of two, who joined about 20 parents and children last week at an Early Childhood Communication class at Howard County General Hospital.

Speech and language pathologist Mary C. Wagner used a video and handouts to teach parents how to enhance their children's speech through play, gestures, sounds and simple words.

"Speech and language is something that is learned," Ms. Wagner said. "It's not something they're born with."

Children begin responding to sound while they're still in the womb, she said. By the time they're newborns, they can tell the difference between pleasant and angry voices.

"Communication begins day one," she added. "Anything you say, any comforting sounds . . . will have a very important effect on the baby's speech and language development."

To effectively communicate with children from infancy through preschool, she encourages parents to play with their offspring.

"They learn through sharing, they learn through imitation and by having fun," Ms. Wagner said.

Children also learn by imitating simple sounds and words they hear.

"These sounds are getting them to listen and respond," Ms. Wagner said as she clucked her tongue at a smiling 4 1/2 -month-old boy.

To gain and hold children's attention, she advised parents to follow their youngsters' lead.

"Watch and wait," Ms. Wagner said. "Take time and see what the child is interested in."

Parents also learned how to enhance their children's speech without correcting their pronunciation.

"Don't correct their speech," Mrs. Wagner told the class. "Your job is to enhance communication. Don't worry about speech. Speech will come later."

Ms. Wagner also showed parents how to give their children conversation practice by making comments instead of asking questions.

"Instead of asking them 'what did you do today,' tell them about your day," Ms. Wagner told the class. "That sort of gives them a cue to share their day with you."

Replacing questions with comments also allows children to show their ideas.

Voice inflection is also important to show authority, interest or enjoyment. "Your voice tells the child whether you're enjoying yourself and are happy," she said.

When a child throws a tantrum, a calm, low voice is best to re-establish authority. "Avoid getting your voice pitch up," Ms. Wagner cautioned.

By the end of the one-hour class, parents said they felt more at ease with their children's speech and language development.

"I don't feel I'm doing something wrong," said Kathy Vernacchio, who was worried that she wasn't communicating enough with her 6-month-old son.

Ms. Calin said the class also erased any doubts about her son's speech and language development.

"It gives me more confidence," she said after class. "He'll communicate when he wants to."

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