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Child Development 101: Parents’ Active Role is Vital to Improve Their Child's Language Development

Tony and Marisol Garza decided that, when the time came to have children, they would promise to treat them as smart, capable individuals, and to avoid “baby talk” at all times.

“We agreed to use complete sentences and descriptive words whenever possible and, as a result, our now 6-year-old son and our 3-year-old daughter can hold conversations on various topics —and often amaze us with their perspectives,” Tony Garza said.

Studies show that children who hear fewer words during their first few years have a tendency to process language more slowly than children who hear regular and more complex speech directed right to them. This shortcoming, known as the "word gap," forecasts a slower vocabulary growth.

However, if a parent or caregiver takes an active role in their child's language development, and reads aloud often, it sets the strong foundation needed for their life-long academic success.

Stanford psychology professor Anne Fernald said recently that early results from a program designed by Stanford psychologists show that educating parents on how to speak with their toddlers can impact the child's language development for the better.”We are testing two hypotheses,” Fernald said. “First, that it's possible to help vulnerable parents gain knowledge and skills which will actually cause behavior change, increasing the amount of verbal engagement with young children. And second, that when parents learn to engage more richly in these ways, their children will show greater gains in language skills critical for later school success.”

Last Spring, First 5 California responded to compelling research on the importance of early brain development for children ages 0-5 by launching a new statewide media campaign encouraging parents and caregivers to talk, read, and sing to babies and toddlers.

“It’s important not only to support the research that has generated the need for parents to talk and verbalize with their child, but I also want to emphasize how important it is for interaction. Have the child see the object and touch the object while you are talking about the object. The third piece is to use that time together to build a stronger connection between caregiver or parent and child,” said First 5 LA Director of Research and Evaluation Armando Jimenez.

Cynthia Santana, a program support specialist with Los Angeles Universal Preschool, said parents can use every day routines as opportunities to support a child's language development. 

“During bath and meal time routines, parents can respond to their child’s communication attempts (gestures, babbles) to build their vocabulary,” said Santana. “For toddlers and preschoolers, it's best to ask open-ended questions so their child can express their ideas, thoughts and feelings.”

Garza, a preschool special education teacher, agreed: “One strategy that has been useful for us is ‘broadcasting’, where we intentionally describe what our children are observing, such as folding clothes, cleaning the kitchen, washing the car, or even making a sandwich. I like to call this the ‘Vin Scully’ approach.”

“Language allows toddlers to meet everyday wants and needs, and it also gives them a means to communicate their thoughts and emotions," said Garza. “Children will mimic what they hear and see and that's why parents must model the language that they want their children to use.”

For additional resources on how parents can improve their child's language development, visit:

All About Young Children

Zero to Three

NAEYC for Families


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