Dos & Don’ts of Child-Directed Speech

Have you noticed that mamas, grandmas, and even little siblings will talk differently to a newborn than an adult? We instinctively talk differently to babies and toddlers. The style of talking we use with little ones is called “Child-Directed Speech” also known as “Motherese” or “Baby Talk.”

Characteristics of Child-Directed Speech

“Child Directed-Speech” (CDS) is the style of talking we use with infants and toddlers where we talk slower, exaggerate vowels, and speak in shorter sentences. 
  • Talking slowly
  • Exaggerated vowels
  • Shorter sentences
  • Using a sing-songy voice

Purpose of of Child-Directed Speech

Child-directed speech is designed to help infants and the little learn language. Have you ever noticed how attentive an infant is when you use your motherese? With my little guy, his eyes widen and he focuses on whoever is talking to him with the sing-songy, bubbly motherese. It's as if he knows that it's for him!

From my personal experience, I'd speculate that using motherese also increases an infant's engagement and attentiveness to their communication partner.

When and When Not to Use Motherese

Like all good things, there are times and situations when Child-Directed Speech isn't helpful. One research study looked into Child-Directed Speech and determine when it is and isn't beneficial. The research results revealed that:

1) Child-Directed Speech is best when used when learning new words or language concepts.

2) It doesn’t help a child if it’s used with something they already know or have mastered, otherwise it isn’t helpful and it can be condescending.

3) It didn’t make a difference when it was used with 5 and 6-year-old but was helpful for 3 and 4-year olds.

So use Child-Directed Speech when you're child is younger than 3 or 4 years old and when you're teaching something new. If your child is 5+ years old, don't use Child-Directed Speech. If you use it at this stage of the game, your child could recognize it as being condescending.

Using Child-Directed Speech

A sing-songy voice with short vowels may sound weird but keep your ears open and you'll notice that it happens around you all of the time. I've noticed that sometimes I also incorporate shortened and make-up words when I'm talking to Baby Boy like when we're reading "Babies in the Forest" together (one of our favorite books). Sometimes I say, "Do you want your ba-ba?" Personally, I think this is okay as long as I don't only ever refer to his bottle as a "ba-ba." I'm also not creating made-up words for everything Baby Boy interacts with. If he was 5-years-old and requested "moo-moo" instead of milk, then I'd know there was an issue and I'd need to 'clean up' my speech asap.

(When kiddos get older, here are some ideas for how to improve their language skills in everyday conversations.)

Summary

So is Child-Directed Speech effective? Yep!  There are just some limitations for how useful it is and when it's best to use. Talk to your littles in a way that is fun and keeps them engaged! Follow your gut instincts and use a bit of this post's research as a guideline.

Want to know more about using Child-Directed Speech?

Check out Baby Talk is for Babies

P.S. This post contains affiliate links because momma's gotta bring home the bacon. If I do receive a negligible kick-back because of a purchase, thank you! Source Foursha-Stevenson, C., Schembri, T., Nicoladis, E., & Eriksen, C. (2017). The influence of child-directed speech on word learning and comprehension. Journal Of Psycholinguistic Research46(2), 329-343. doi:10.1007/s10936-016-9441-3

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