One step to a savvy talking toddler

Language and intellectual development go hand-in-hand, like two lovebirds skipping through the ‘theme-park’ of life. The basic idea is that as soon as your child can name it, they can claim it – quite literally.

So how do you maximise your child’s ability to talk without becoming obsessive and spending many hours (that just aren’t available) growing their vocabulary? Well, it’s really simple – just switch the television off when you’re not actually watching a program.

Parents cannot ‘switch off’ to the TV

For years research has confirmed that television is not ideal for our children’s rapidly developing brains, but it seems that it is also not too good for adults either. Studies show that parents cannot ‘switch off’ to the sounds of television, even when it’s just on in the background.

Because of this phenomenon, parents tend to talk and interact less with their children, as if they have one ear ‘glued’ to the programs on in the background. And we all thought we were excellent at multi-tasking!

What the scientists say

Two studies have been conducted on the effect of background television-noise on parents.

The first study, conducted by Dr Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute in the US and quoted on, researched 329 children aged between two months and four years in their own homes. This study found that parents virtually stopped talking when the television was on, even if they weren’t actively watching and were actually engaged in some kind of activity with their children like building blocks together.

Special word-counting devices that hung around their necks showed that with the television off, parents spoke on average 941 words per hour. With the television on, this dropped to a staggering 171 words per hour. Their children naturally also spoke much less.

Dr Christakis explains, “Parents may not realise how little they interact with their children when the TV is on. A mother may think she’s engaging with her baby because they’re both on the floor playing blocks. But if the TV is on in the background, the two of them talk much less.”

Interestingly, fathers were worse off than mothers. While mothers’ average word count halved with the television on, fathers became almost catatonic and barely managed an ‘umm’ or an ‘ahh’.

The second study was conducted by the University of Massachusetts in the US and was cited in the Journal of Child Development, also quoted on Here, 50 children aged from 1 - 3 were accompanied by a parent to a research centre. A one hour session was created, and for the first half the parent and child played and interacted without a television, and for the second half there was an adult game show on the television in the background.

The researchers were looking for how interactive the parents were with their children, how often they talked and how well both the parents and children responded to each other’s questions and suggestions.

When the television was on in the background, the study found that parents interactions dropped dramatically and they spoke 20% less. On a whole, the television influenced the parents to such an extent that they became less interactive, responsive and attentive to their children.

What does this all mean?

The good news is that something as simple as just pushing the ‘off’ button on the television when you’re not watching it can make such a huge difference to the quality of your interactions with your child. It’s a no brainer really.

You don’t get much simpler than that… awesome right?

Would you switch off the TV to increase your toddler's vocabularly?
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