It is a well-known fact that talking to your child and exposing them to many different words helps them develop their language skills. However, this is not the be-all and end-all. In fact, research has revealed that it is the quality of the interactions between parents and children that matters more than the number of words they hear.

The most important factors that contribute most to the quality of interactions between parents and children are connectedness, joint attention and familiar routines.

When parents and children take turns and participate equally in their interactions, they naturally enjoy being together. Children are more motivated to stay in enjoyable interactions which therefore exposes them to more opportunities to learn. This can be achieved by taking a step back from your own agenda and observing what your child is naturally interested in. What does your child like to look at? It may not be what you were pointing at! How does your child like to play with toys? It’s not necessarily the way you think they should be playing! Why not join in and play alongside your child? Play the way they would play. When your child sees that you are interested, it will encourage them to stay in the interaction for longer. When you comment on what you are both doing, your child will naturally pay attention and therefore learn the words you say.

Familiar routines are a great way to engage with your child and get them involved in your interactions. There are many things you do with your child that likely happen the same way each time, such as getting ready to go out, snack time, getting ready for bed. Because the steps are repeated many times, the words associated with them are also repeated many times. The fact that the same words are paired with the same actions again and again is extremely powerful in enabling a child to learn these words. The familiarity and predictability of routines means that children can pay attention to the language without being distracted by seeing something new. Once your child knows a routine well, why not pause and allow them to tell you the next step? Change up one of the steps and see how your child reacts and what they have to say about it!

Simply put, it is not enough to just say a lot to your child. Only when you have their interest and attention will they tune into your words and learn them.