Parent-child communication has a huge impact on a child’s development. It can feel awkward talking to a baby or toddler before they are capable of talking back, but studies have shown again and again that during those early months and years, children are soaking up so much from their caregiver’s efforts to talk to them. It’s really kind of amazing when you start to learn some of the stats of what babies’ brains are capable of in the 6-8 month range when it comes to language acquisition. If you want to have your mind blown by the learning potential of the baby brain, check out this video on “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”
And that’s just the language benefits! Verbal and nonverbal communication are huge parts of the parent-child bonding small children need to develop healthy social and emotional skills, even a healthy sense of self. In the video linked above, there is an experiment described in which they observed babies’ reactions to their mothers’ demeanor. When a mother engages with her child with an expressive face and tone, the baby delights, making noises, reaching out, becoming more animated by the second. When the mother looks at her child with a blank and unresponsive face (not mean, just blank), the baby slowly shrinks, becoming hopeless and upset. Little ones want so much to connect. It really reveals how deeply wired we are as social creatures.
Thinking about all this led me to want to share a few wonderful board books I’ve found that both demonstrate and help facilitate parent-baby communication (verbal and nonverbal). Here they are…
Bonus points for being bilingual! More bonus points for featuring an awesome dad! This little story is sweet and simple. A little girl and her father go on a search for a fish to be their pet, or as they put it, “a fish to feed.” The entire story comes in the form of spoken dialogue between the daddy and his toddler. The father uses complete sentences to describe what they are looking for and to explain the other kinds of fish (on a t-shirt, a backpack, etc.) that they see during their shopping journey. Another lovely aspect of this book is the burstingly joyful facial expressions of both the father and daughter throughout the book. It just makes you happy to see them enjoying each other so much. This book is part of the author’s “Small Talk” collection, which focuses intentionally on meaningful conversations between caregivers and small children. These books do a great job of expanding your concept of what conversation with a baby or toddler can look and feel like.
In this sweet little book, an adventurous toddler peekaboos his way through the house, making his way from family member to family member. Each one engages with him in their own way–mommy gazing calmly into his eyes, daddy bouncing him on the bed, grandma throwing her head back with laughter. It’s a great portrait of the many different ways caregivers can be themselves while engaging richly with their little one. The key is that every family member receives the little peekabooer with joy and responds to him. On the final page of the book, he even includes us readers in the game, looking straight at us (and reminding us how important and powerful eye contact is). Reading this book with a little one will surely lead to a fun game of peekaboo on the spot.
Most kids have a hard time at one point or another with saying goodbye. In this book, a little girl feels anxious about daddy leaving in the morning. It becomes clear that they’ve had conversations to prepare for this moment when he reminds her, “It’s bye-bye time. Do you remember what we do?” This reminds the little girl of the comforting goodbye routine (hugs and kisses, goodbye wave, etc.) they have already chosen and practiced as a family. It also empowers her to remember all her strategies for handling the scary feelings of saying goodbye (deep breath, quiet place, cuddle something soft, etc.). It is a straightforward little book and has fun patterns and colors to make the pictures engaging. At the end, there is a page of “Bye Bye Tips for Parents & Caregivers.” It’s a useful book for children who are struggling with separation anxiety, but it’s also just a great picture of what talking through a child’s fear can look like. The little girl is never told her feeling is wrong. Instead she is lovingly given tools she can use to try and cope–and she’s reminded that “Goodbye isn’t forever” and looks forward to “Hello” later in the day.
All three of these board books are engaging for babies and toddlers and super encouraging and helpful to parents and caregivers as they try to figure out how to have conversations with their little ones from day one. Parenting is hard and it helps enormously to have a community of parents for support, advice and just plain friendship. One organization doing a stellar job of creating this for families here in the South Bronx is “Wonderfully Made” Family Services. I plan to feature them more fully in a future post, but their services are so relevant to today’s topic, I just had to mention them. “Wonderfully Made” facilitates learning communities for parents of children 0-5, 5-12 and 12+ years old. They foster an incredibly safe space in which to learn and grow as a parent and much of the focus is on parent-child communication. If you’re a parent in the South Bronx looking for support, guidance or community, it is a great organization to connect with.