You know that we love words here at VersaMe. We’re trying to do something great by encouraging parents to talk more to grow our children’s brains. And we know that more talking means more learning.1
But in the famous words of Extreme, it’s “More Than Words.” Language development is strengthened the more you talk to your child. But that’s not all the brain is doing while you’re busy jabbering on. It’s growing on a cognitive level and engaging in more critical thinking, gaining more social and emotional intelligence, and setting your kiddo up for future success.
Wow. All of that, just by talking?! You bet. It’s no secret that the world that our children are growing up in looks a lot different than that of our grandparents. The education system looks different and a lot less linear, and the work force is nearly unrecognizable. This proves that there are other skills that our children need to thrive.2
Cognition and Fostering Critical Thinking
We know from reading through years of research that children think based on how they play. A growing body of research shows that every competency that is important to school success is enhanced by play.7 However, many of the social and cognitive skills that children develop through play over their early years are facilitated by quality communication. Language and play both require that a child applies mental representations of the world to new objects, people, and situations. Pretty impressive stuff! So creating language experiences during playtime is the ideal way for your kiddo to learn and start building the foundation for early critical thinking.
If you take a step back and think about it, the ecosystem in which a child grows up sets the foundation for everything that child will immediately experience once they can start to control their own reality. Before children can take charge of their own experience and begin to spend time growing and learning with other children, almost everything they learn comes from their families.1 As a society, we have placed the colossal responsibility of socializing our children on the shoulders of the family.
We know that reality is both exciting as well as terrifying, but you already have everything you need to be a great parent. Simply talking to your children while engaging and stimulating them will set both you and your child up for glorious success!
As you talk more to your child, a boat-load of other things are happening in their brain. They are beginning to understand more sounds, words, and phrases – even as early as infancy! Their brains are starting to work their memory systems, engaging in recalling words that you repeat. And they are recognizing the structure of the phrases and sentences you use. All of this requires a higher level of cognitive processing.
There is evidence that shows that children with stronger language skills have better working memories and a better ability to process information in real time 4. So this awesomeness that’s happening in their brain is just the gateway to start initiating some critical thinking, and some creativity during play too.
When you’re talking to your kiddo during a simple play task, like playing with blocks for instance, they are simultaneously processing what you say and do with the reality of what they see. And better yet, they’re thinking about what can be done differently. What else can you do with blocks besides just stack them to make a tower? How do you create something new?
Sharing the same experience during playtime for a longer period of time, also known as joint attention, has been shown to improve vocabulary.5 Engaging your kiddo in daily play tasks through language will keep them attentive and more interested in you too!
Upping Social and Emotional IQs
We all know that type of person that has the uncanny ability to connect with anyone and “work the room.” What sets these people apart from the wallflowers? Social intelligence. It’s their ability to mesh well with others, channel their verbal conversational skills, engage in effective listening, and abide by social rules.
But guess what! Children learn all of these things from you. When you talk, ask questions, and engage with them one-on-one, they’re creating a social rule system that you use every time you communicate. So it turns out that communication is more than just sounds, words, and sentences. It’s the fuel that is powering your child’s social engine. And it boils down to very tangible things like keeping eye contact, understanding another person, and having empathy. It’s engaging in a collaborative activity and being a successful conversationalist.6
Related to this is emotional intelligence, or the ability to identify and manage your own emotions. This means more self-awareness, impulse control, and better self-regulation. You may ask – What’s this got to do with language development? Once again, everything.
Communication begins developing in patterns. Early on, a baby cries to indicate a need. They typically need some help self-soothing and regulating. But between 6 and 18 months, communicative engagement with an adult becomes more intentional, and they begin to use verbal and nonverbal language for self-control and to understand what they’re feeling.7 So when children have difficulty understanding others and expressing themselves, it’s not surprising that emotional adjustment issues arise.
Children with stronger language skills are more successful at building and maintaining healthy relationships and regulating their own behaviors. So just by using more words, talking more and playing more with your child, you’re helping to create a savvier kiddo that is establishing these essential life skills.
The ability to communicate is the basis of social and emotional well-being. And self-confidence, oh self-confidence, is the underpinning of that well-being. By communicating with your child and allowing them to think through different and challenging scenarios, they are developing the capacity to solve problems.7 These problem solving skills are not only necessary for your child to navigate the chaotic complexities that we know as life, but they also build self-composure and self-confidence. Confident kiddos are more apt to try challenging things, engage in more social collaboration, and interact with others.
So start building away! The best way to do this is by talking through your child’s experiences. Anything from learning to kick a ball to taking off their socks can be narrated through words. They are learning about navigating their world, understanding their feelings, observing others, and the power of the process.
So, that means just by talking more, our children can gain these fundamental life skills to set them up for long-term success.
- Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. (2003) The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3. American Educator
- Michnick Golinkoff, R. & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2016). Becoming Brilliant. What science tells us about raising successful children. American Psychological Association (APA).
- Westby, C. (1980). Assessment of Cognitive and Language Abilities Through Play. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools (11) pp. 154-168.
- Deák, G.O. (2014). Interrelations of language and cognitive development. Encyclopedia of Language Development (pp. 284-291). P. Brooks & V. Kampe, Eds. SAGE
- Akhtar, N., & Gernsbacher, M. A. (2007). Joint Attention and Vocabulary Development: A Critical Look. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(3), 195–207.
- Wells, G. (1981). Learning Through Interaction: Volume 1: The Study of Language Development. Cambridge University Press.
- Cohen, N. (2010). The Impact of Language Development on the Psychosocial and Emotional Development of Young Children.Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development, Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, Canada