Babies Need Words (Pedcast)

Today’s pedcast reviews recent concepts about language development in babies.

Doc Smo here. Thank you for tuning into another edition of For my new listeners, you should know that by day I am a general pediatrician practicing in North Carolina for the past 32 years, but by night, I am a pediatric blogger, creating portable, practical pedcasts for parents. Today, I think I have some very relevant information for all the families that have children that range from birth to three years old, that extremely important time in a child’s life when their brains are developing at the speed of light. Scientists are realizing more and more how critical this time is to a child’s development and ultimate success in life. We all want the very best for every child but how do we achieve this? What can parents do to give their little ones the best environment for outstanding cognitive ability?  Well, in a nutshell, that is the topic we are going to take on today. Let’s see what emerging information has to offer as far as advice.


Researchers are beginning to find out what mothers and grandmothers have known for decades… reading to children makes them smart and gives them a great shot at doing well in school. For this reason, the AAP published a new policy statement that strongly encourages pediatricians, like me, to facilitate, encourage, and cajole parents into reading to their children regularly, especially in families that traditionally struggled with academic achievement. We have known for decades that, on average, at-risk children reach school with far poorer vocabulary than their middle class counterparts, to a large degree because they do not HEAR as much language in the first few years of life…unless–and this is a big unless–their parents turned the TV off and read to them on a regular basis. So it is notable that the Academy of Pediatrics has taken on improving the language and brain development of young children as their next frontier. We all know how easy it seems to be for young children to learn a new language; they seem to learn six languages as easily as they learn one. Young children are masters at acquiring language and reading, speaking, and imitating are the tools of their trade. What a tragedy it is not to give every child an equal chance at mastering their native tongue and being equally ready for school when the time comes. We just need to make it happen for every child since in the United States, only 34% of preschool children in poverty get read to daily!


Pediatricians are in a perfect position to influence parents. The AAP is right about that and using this influence to get parents to read more to their children… that is a great thing. As a practicing pediatrician however, I’ve got to tell you that the precious minutes you have with families and children in an office setting, with the myriad of subjects we are supposed to cover, is a daunting task for doctors. Maybe we should send pre-recorded messages on targeted issues like reading to children from pediatricians to families via phone calls or email. Or maybe this would be the appropriate material to discuss in the group medical visits that are becoming so popular. I am sure that in the era of innovation and technology, a new reality of a pediatric visit will emerge and that in the new paradigm of healthcare, stimulating brain, language, and cognitive development will be part of the mix. Maybe we should enlist the experts from the world of high efficiency manufacturing to help the healthcare system streamline the age-old pediatric office visit. If my office could only hum like a Toyota assembly line… wouldn’t that be grand.


If you have ideas of how we can increase the time young children spend interacting with books and language, please weigh in on the subject by making a comment on my blog. I would love to hear your ideas. The next generation is everyone’s responsibility so let’s get started improving their chance of success with good language skills, learned right at home.  At risk children have a lot to overcome but poor language skills at school entry maybe one problem that we can solve with relative ease.  This is Doc Smo, recording in studio 1E, thanking you for joining me today and hoping that your little ones get hooked, on a lifetime of good books.


Smo Notes:


  1. Carol Hartman says:

    I am sure that time constraints do keep you from covering this type of information. Perhaps the paperwork that every new mother fills out on their baby’s first visit could include a sheet of tips for new parents to take home with them. It could include some type of encouragement along this line: It has been found that babies and toddlers who are read to daily, will have more vocabulary and more success when they start school. Of course, many people will choose not to read it, or to ignore it perhaps, but if it is repeated and emphasized enough, maybe it will be the stimulus some people need. When my children were little I was given a small form at every pediatric well child visit which recorded their height, weight, and sometimes expected developmental accomplishments for their particular ages. If parents receive something of this kind now, perhaps an additional statement printed on it could mention the benefit of reading daily. I know the socio-economic factors major greatly in a situation like this, and encouraging someone to read to their child is not going to matter much in a home where parents do not care for reading, and perhaps do not have any books for their children. Maybe you could encourage obstetricians to include “reading to babies” as part of their instructions for soon-to-be parents! 🙂

    • DocSmo says:

      Great comment. Thanks. Many pediatricians who work with “at risk” families give parents books to read to their children during their visits to the clinic. Hopefully this will help. Turning off the TV,reading a good book aloud, and talking to children, in today’s world is cutting edge stuff! Go figure.

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