Speaking in “baby voice” may help your child’s speech development

Speaking in “baby voice” may help your child’s speech development

You see a cute baby or an adorable animal and suddenly, you find your speaking voice and pattern has totally changed.

This unmistakable phenomenon is known by many names, most commonly “baby voice,” “baby talk,” or “parentese” and is defined by the high-pitched, sing-song manner adults use to speak to babies and animals. Many also speak slower or with exaggerated pronunciation.

While some scientists hypothesize it’s a biological mechanism for encouraging speech development, the reason why people do baby voice isn’t fully known. But Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, pediatric psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Oak Lawn, says there are benefits in using it because babies actually prefer it.

“Research has shown that babies are more responsive and pay more attention when adults use baby voice,” Dr. Roberts said. “Researchers have also found that using baby voice helps children with speech and vocabulary development. Current research suggests that it should be used and it should be used often.”

While babies probably appreciate the special treatment, parents of older children should probably avoid using baby voice outside of tender, affectionate and playful moments as to avoid embarrassment for the child.

“As a former child who was subjected to baby voice — affectionately — yelled across the softball field, I’d like to make a plug for using this loving tone with older children in the safe privacy of home,” Dr. Roberts said.

But for the littler ones, research shows baby voice helps with speech and vocabulary development and is beneficial for social interaction. In fact, scientists are trying to learn how they might be able to harness it as a tool to help with infants who may be at risk of speech and language problems, Dr. Roberts said.

“Much of the research on this topic has compared how babies respond when spoken to in baby voice versus ‘adult voice,’” Dr. Roberts said. “If you’re curious, try out the experiment for yourself. Babies do seem to respond more to this silly way of speaking. And interestingly, this research has been replicated across many different cultures and languages.”

Now is the perfect time to make an appointment with a primary care physician. Whether you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, it’s easy to find a doctor near you. 

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