Absentmindedly Talking to Babies Proves Highly Beneficial

A mother smiles at her baby in the bathResearch has repeatedly shown that reading to babies and young children can boost vocabulary, promote early learning, and instill a lifelong love of reading. As anyone who’s ever tried to read to a squirming, babbling baby knows, though, infants aren’t always the most receptive audience. A new study offers hope to parents overwhelmed by trying to read to their babies, suggesting that at a young age, talking to your child offers even greater benefits than reading.

The Benefits of Talking and Reading to Children

The study, published in Child Language Teaching and Therapy, pulled data from the Growing Up in Ireland study, which provided data from 7,845 babies. Researchers looked at data for 9-month-olds, evaluating how frequently parents spoke with and read to their children. The study’s authors controlled for variables that could affect child development, such as breastfeeding, maternal education, gestational age, care from non-parents, and interactions with siblings. 

Unsurprisingly, researchers found that reading to babies had a positive effect on problem-solving and communication skills. Showing children pictures, as many parents do when they read to their babies, improved communication skills, but not problem-solving abilities. Absentmindedly talking to children throughout the day, though, yielded more positive results than either reading or showing pictures, significantly boosting babies’ problem-solving and communication skills. 

How to Talk to Your Baby

Since babies aren’t yet ready to respond to their parents’ words, it’s up to parents to figure out how best to communicate with their babies, leaving some parents confused about the ideal approach. The study showed that absent-minded communication, rather than the drilling of specific words, offered robust benefits, so parents should take heart that talking to their babies doesn’t have to be cumbersome. If you want to test this approach out yourself, try some of the following strategies: 

  • Talk to your baby like you would talk to a friend, telling him or her what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, or what you’re thinking.
  • Ask your baby questions about your activities together—“What color is that?” “Who are we going to see?” Though your child can’t yet respond, this gets him or her used to hearing conversations.
  • Narrate your activities for your child. Try telling him or her the parts of his or her body, talking about what you’re doing when you dress or bathe your child, or telling your child what you’re about to do. Try “Now we’re going to see grandma,” “I’m putting on your shoes,” or “Look at that yellow bird!”


Murray, A., & Egan, S. M. (2014). Does reading to infants benefit their cognitive development at 9-months-old? An investigation using a large birth cohort survey. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 30(3), 303-315. doi:10.1177/0265659013513813

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  • Ernesto

    January 8th, 2015 at 3:42 PM

    I have always heard that talking to your children, from birth through the years as they get older, is only going to reap positive outcomes. So now I have the written research to back up my theory too! I am not mindlessly babbling, but doing something that in the end is only going to end up being more positive for my kids.

  • luke

    January 9th, 2015 at 3:43 AM

    Good for the parents and children too. Establishes a communication bond between you from a very early age

  • Kelly P.

    January 9th, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    Babies THRIVE in environments where their parents talk to them. It is not the point that they can’t understand yet what you are saying to them, but I do believe that it gives them a sense of comfort just knowing that there is an adult there who loves them and cares for them. I am certain that this is something that they can hear in your voice, so babble on my friends

  • Channing

    January 10th, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    Why not talk to them and explain the world around them? They are learning and taking in so many new things every single minute of the day. I think that it is wonderful when it is mom or dad or someone close to them in their lives who has the very first chance to see those things with them and help them make sense of it all.

  • emery

    January 12th, 2015 at 3:35 PM

    helps with early language development as well as vocabulary formation

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