Ever watch a parent interact with an infant? Mark VanDam, a professor in speech and hearing sciences at Washington State University, strapped recording devices on moms and dads interacting with their infants for a day to hear how they really talked to their babies.
Not surprising, the experiment showed that moms develop a sort of motherese-speak when talking to their babies, a natural inclination toward an infantile sing-song tone — in other words, baby talk — while dads pretty much speak to their kids as they would an adult.
The research proved a theory developed in the 1970s that claimed moms prepare children to connect intimately with others by using this more melodic tone, whereas dads prepare kids for communicating with others by speaking to them more conversationally.
The underlying issue behind the question "Are moms better at baby talk than dads?" is which of the two sexes is more comfortable being more open and vulnerable publicly, says Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills relationship psychotherapist and author of the book "The Self-Aware Parent."
"Generally, it is moms because they are of the female gender. That said, this issue is really very individual specific. There are many sensitive, intuitive, empathetic and emotionally vulnerable dads who are comfortable making a fool of themselves in public by talking baby talk with their young children," Walfish explains.
Though public persona may play a factor in how parents respond to kids in front of others, these researchers followed families in their homes as well.
For instance, when babies made sounds, moms were more likely to respond to them verbally than fathers were, replying with cooing sounds like "oohing" and "ahing." Mothers responded 88 to 94 percent of the time to the babies' vocalizations, while dads responded only 27 to 33 percent of the time.
"Baby talk originated as a fundamental way of mirroring the non-fluent or non-verbal infant and toddler to demonstrate that a warm, caring caregiver loves them and is trying to understand their experience, needs and wants," says Walfish.
Perhaps that explains why moms, perceived as the more nurturing sex, are simply more in tune to baby talk than dads.
Regardless, researchers agree that talking to babies and young children is one of the most effective ways to improve children's early language skills. Research like this lets parents know how important both genders are to the communication skills and school readiness of their children, which begins from infancy. So go ahead and coo, ah and ooh! Make baby talk, adult talk and mimic your infant's verbal cues! All of it serves an important developmental purpose, no matter who it comes from.
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