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Parents use your words! Why it matters what you say.

Parents use your words! Why it matters what you say.

I recently attended the Joseph Sandler Conference on Parenting at the Yale Child Study Center. In my next several blogs I will share some of what I learned at the conference.

It is well known how important it is to talk to young babies even before they can talk back. When you talk with your infant in a conversational manner your baby automatically picks up the vocabulary words and grammar you are using. This is how babies learn language. It doesn’t matter what you say as long are you are talking! More talking; Bigger vocabulary.

Mom mirroring baby

Professor Lane Strathearn presented a study conducted at Texas Children’s Hospital that shows when it does matter what words you use. Subjects were mothers with their preverbal 6-month-old babies. The mothers all talk with their babies as they simultaneously mirror their infant’s expression of emotion- meaning the mother expresses the same facial expression and tone of voice as the baby. Mirroring is part of how a mother expresses empathy and indicates that she understands what her baby is experiencing.

When the babies are 1 years old most mothers had formed a secure attachment with their babies. Sadly some mothers did not. The two groups differ on what words the mother uses while she is mirroring. Mothers, who have a secure attachment, use words that express a deeper understanding of what the baby is experiencing. Mothers, who do not form a secure attachment use words that express a more superficial understanding. The researchers conclude: Reflective capacity stimulates the mother to use words, which express her deeper understanding.

Here is an exercise to try. When your baby is upset, try and put into words what you imagine your child is feeling. This will mobilize your reflective thinking and strengthen the bond you have with your baby….even if your baby does not understand a word you say.



As a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, I have been in private practice for over 35 years, with a special interest in parents and couples.


Nothing from June 6, 2023 to December 5, 2023.