Talking with Babies in Child Care

Woman and baby smiling at each other

Child care providers sometime feel shy about talking with babies, because they think the babies don’t understand what you are saying. But brain research tells us that talking with babies is important. Talking with babies helps them to learn a great deal about language and communication, even before they are old enough to understand the meaning of the words you say.

One of the easiest ways to talk with babies in child care is to build conversation with babies into your child care routines. Talk with babies while changing their diapers, while feeding with them, and while settling them down for a nap. Use language to encourage them during playtime. Make conversations warm and pleasant. You’re teaching the baby the pleasure of interacting with others. Here are some ways that infant caregivers can make the most of conversations with infants in your child care program.

  • Talk about actions as children are doing them. Use words to describe what the baby is doing, such as climbing, crawling, pushing, sliding, filling, dumping, throwing, catching, kicking, bouncing, sliding. “You are pushing the wagon. It’s hard. The wagon is heavy.”
  • Put feelings into words. When children cry, fight, become frustrated, or jump with joy, these are great times to teach them. By describing their feelings with words, you help children make sense of their feelings and learn how to talk about their feelings.
  • Help babies do what they want to do safely. Watch what a baby wants to do. Help the baby to do it for herself if it is safe. You can say, “You want the ball that is under the crib. You can get it all by yourself. Try reaching with your arm.”
  • Use “Serve and return” interactions. Pay attention to the ways that babies are communicating with you. When a baby makes a sound, repeat and expand that sound. Responding to babies’ attempts to communicate teaches them how to interact with other people.
  • Build secure relationships with each child in your care. The best way to do this is to respond to the child’s cues. Even though they can’t talk yet, babies have many ways of telling you what they need. Children feel safer and more secure when caregivers learn to read these signals and respond quickly to the messages sent by the children.

For More Information

To learn more about infant development, or to discover ways child care providers can care for infants effectively, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

To learn more about serve and return interactions, check out the resources of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child