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Child Development 101: A Good Cry

January 9, 2012
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Parents can glean important information from a baby's cries - hunger, fatigue, a wet diaper. But the melody in the cries could also help uncover potential delays in language development.

German researchers recently studied three groups of 2-month-olds: one group with cleft palates, another with cleft lips and palates and the third with typical lips and palates. They found that babies whose cries showed fewer variations in melody were more prone to language delays by age 2.

A baby's speech and language development follows a typical course from birth onward, as documented by milestones established by speech development experts. The researchers found that rising and falling melodies in babies' cries became more complex as the infants grew. In addition, the ability to intentionally pause between melodies is a precursor to producing syllables.

Among the infants studied, the cries of babies with cleft lips or palates differed significantly from those of infants without the birth defect. Children with cleft palates generally experience more language delays than other children, and the researchers' findings could uncover new ways to improve outcomes for infants born with cleft lips or palates.

While a correlation between melody and language development may be significant, Renatta Cooper, an education coordinator for the Los Angeles County Office of Child Care who has studied early language development, said, "A lot of it is in how the cry is responded to. Does someone go over and plop a bottle into the infant's mouth? Does the caregiver talk to the infant while he's crying?"

Whether or not an infant is born with an orofacial cleft, parents and caregivers can support language development by being attentive to a baby's cries and trying to figure out why the infant is crying. Cooper notes that talking to an infant while she's crying generally will change the nature of the cry. Therefore reciprocity is essential, and the parent's words should be more "why are you crying" and less "it's okay, don't cry."

"An adult's response to an infant's cry is what sets the stage for communicating," Cooper said. "There needs to be that exchange."

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a good cry/language development

This article was fascinating. Regarding the issue of infants with orofacial clefts and language delay, I'm wondering if having an orofacial cleft, regardless of the response from parents, is associated with language delay. I didn't read the article but I'm also wondering if they considered whether the orofacial cleft was syndromic? whether this might make a difference in the finding of the delay in language? Finally, regarding the comment"reciprocity is essential" in regards to crying, I'm wondering about the evidence that , "the parent's words should be more "why are you crying" and less "it's okay, don't cry." After all an infant doesn't know the difference between the words at 1 month of age, however, the infant may be able to tell the difference in the tone of the voice (soothing vs irritated). just a thought.

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