New research has confirmed that a little conversation goes a long way when it comes to talking to your child early on.
In fact, it revealed that children with parents who spend time listening and talking to them are much more likely to have better language skills and higher IQs a decade later, compared to children who do not.
The long-term study, which was published this week in Pediatrics, followed 146 Denver-area children from the ages of two months to four years old, as well as their parents. Families were asked to provide day-long audio recordings of their infants and toddlers monthly for a total of six months. The child would wear a special vest that contained a recording device that was programmed to count vocalizations and verbal stimulation from mom or dad.
Researchers analyzed over 9,000 hours of transcribed day-long recordings and measured conversational aspects such as turn-taking (if the child responds to a parent within five seconds) and vocalization from the child that the parent responds to within five seconds.
The study didn't end there, however.
Between the ages of nine and 14, the same children also received follow-up tests of their language skills and cognitive abilities - including memory and reasoning.
What researchers found was fairly astounding. According to the study, frequent chatting with toddlers resulted in up to 27 per cent higher performance in verbal comprehension a decade later.
"We were expecting to see correlations based on the previous research with younger children, but can't help but be astounded that automated language measures collected at 18 months can predict anything 10 years later," said Jill Gilkerson, lead author in the study. "It is nothing short of remarkable, in my opinion."
Gilkerson is also the senior director of research and evaluation at the LENA Foundation, a non-profit charity in Boulder, Colorado. She also notes that the study found that conversational turns (child-adult verbal interaction that counts the turns taken in speaking to one another) are extremely important for developing brains - not just simply exposing children to words.
Between the ages of 18-24 months, children undergo what experts dub a "language explosion", which is why early literacy programs are vital and have been shown to result in dramatic brain development in children. The Reach Out And Read program, for example, works with physicians and pediatricians to incorporate books into pediatric care and encourage families to read aloud together.
"It is important for doctors, who see this age group regularly . . . to support this in their practices, including providing resource information to families for early years opportunities, counselling advice and providing books to build a home library," said Dr. Laurie Green, a family physician who helped introduce the Reach Out And Read program in Toronto, Canada.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, about four out of 10 Canadian adults have inadequate literacy skills to be fully competent in the modern economy.