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Are Babies Like Eggplants?

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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 You may think your little baby is laying around like a lump, fixated on the corner where the ceiling meets the wall or captivated by the whirring sound of the lawnmower outside. You would be mistaken! Sure, babies are looking and listening closely to what's taking place around them; after all, everything is new. But behind that deceptively vacant façade there is lots going on.

A recent scientific paper by Dr. Ruth Tincoff of Bucknell University tells us that babies know the names for some of their body parts at 6 months of age. Okay, maybe not "clavicle" or "liver," but "hands" and "feet" -- that's pretty impressive! But how could scientists possibly know this? Using a research method that your favorite bloggersuse! Your baby's gaze allows you to figuratively peer inside their head and see what they're thinking.

In Tincoff's study, babies sat on their parents' laps, looking directly at a large television screen. On one half of the screen was a video of a pair of feet jiggling around; on the other half was a video of some hands moving. The voiceover said, "Find the hands!" Then, a talented undergraduate research assistant hiding underneath the television peeked through a tiny hole to watch where the baby looked. Did the baby look more to the half of the screen with the hands when she heard "hands?" Or did she look equally at the hands and the feet? The research assistant carefully recorded the direction of the baby's gaze. After testing many babies with this method, Tincoff found that 6-month-old babies reliably recognize the hands or feet when they hear the request for that specific body part. At 6 months, the baby already understands things you say. Another paper by Tincoff tells us that babies at this age also recognize the words "mommy" and "daddy" and look at their own mommy or their own daddy when they see them side-by-side on a video.

Now, in the face of these amazing feats, you might think your 6-month-old could do much more. But she still can't go to the refrigerator when she's hungry or even get out of her crib unaided. You're probably thrilled if she has learned to sit up without something propping her up or if she smiles excitedly when you come into a room. But talking? She won't be able to complain that the soup is cold for years. While it is true that the baby would be unable to make it in the world without your ministrations, don't confuse limited motor and language abilities with limited talent. Starting in the womb, your baby is beginning to look for the regularities and patterns in the world around her.

So just because she isn't talking doesn't mean she's not listening! Talk to her and read to her, sing to her and recite poetry. But whatever you do, don't think that plopping her in front of an "educational" video will make a difference. You make that difference when you lovingly talk with your baby each day. And don't listen to Aunt Mabel when she makes fun of you for carrying on a conversation with a puker.

Your baby is no vegetable!

(This blog is dedicated to Annabelle Ruth Frentzel, who just entered the world and is surely no eggplant!)

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Roberta Michnick Golinkoff holds the H. Rodney Sharp Chair in the School of Education at the University of Delaware and is also a member of the Departments of Psychology and Linguistics. An author of twelve books and numerous professional articles, she founded and directs the Child's Play, Learning and Development Lab (formerly the Infant Language Project), whose goal it is to understand how children tackle the amazing feat of learning language. The recipient of a prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and a James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical award, she is frequently quoted in newspapers and magazines and has appeared on Good Morning America and many regional morning shows. Dr. Golinkoff also speaks at conferences and for organizations around the world about children’s development.

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Guest Monday, 18 March 2019