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NC State and A&T State University Extension Service

Media Release
Contact: Tonya Talbert, Senior Editor
Phone: (307) 766-6342

January 8, 2001

Parent-child communication: setting the tone at the crib

By Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Family Life Specialist

Communication between parents and children, especially teenagers, is the most important element in reducing risks, such as drug abuse, school failure or delinquency, and increasing childrenís successes, says Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension family life specialist. Silliman explains that greater openness, empathy and assertiveness can improve family relations at any point during a childís growing up years, but the biggest difference occurs when parents engage children from the beginning.

A baby may not seem the best conversation partner; however, an infant needs caring communication more in the first 12 months than at any other time in life. Simple acts of touching, cuddling, feeding or changing communicate powerful messages of kindness and security. Caregiver talk helps the infant brain focus attention and begin organizing his or her world.

What a parent says is not as important as how it is said. Babies respond best to relaxed eye contact, face-to-face attention and soft or high-pitched words. Changing expressions from smiles to raised eyebrows to sad frowns or silly grins provides variety and interest for the young viewer. Attention may span only a few seconds, but an engaged child will soon return her gaze to the source of the fun. This rhythm of attention and rest builds the foundation of give-and-take that is essential in positive communication.

Parent communication is most critical when a baby is alarmed or agitated. Whining, crying or screaming can make many adults tense, angry or withdrawn. But those who hear it as a cry for help rather than a judgment on their parenting can reach beyond the noise to nurture. A parent who takes a moment to calm down, investigate possible reasons for the cries and then calm the baby communicates caring. Such attention does not spoil a child or encourage more crying. Rather, touching and speaking softly set the tone for the infantís mood. Over time, the child will learn to self-soothe under stress.

Effective communication during play and stressful times is important for both children and adults. This skill can be learned without words in the early months of life.

Last updated Nov 15, 2004

August 28, 2015

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