Talking to your baby in an annoying, higher-pitched voice is not a symptom of parenthood slowly melting your brain. It’s a normal and scientifically backed way to communicate with infants utilized in cultures and languages throughout the world. Infant-directed speech, otherwise known as caregiver speech or “motherese” (which can’t make dads feel much better about using it) is not simply sing-songy nonsense. It’s sing-songy nonsense that helps kids develop the language skills.
“Fathers use it as much as mothers. It’s not as if men go ‘well, I’m not gonna sound like that.’ They do sound like that,” Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, developmental psychologist and professor and Temple University, who’s studied the topic, told Fatherly.
Hirsh-Pasek suspects that it’s in people’s nature.
“Instinctually we know there are certain accommodations we can make in language to others that will make it more identifiable and clear.” This clarity comes with a lot of developmental advantages. Infants take in all sorts of stimuli, but infant-directed speech signals that this language is for them and they should listen. It simplifies statements so babies can start to recognize where sentences begin and end.
Finally, the slower more enunciated speech helps kids learn vowel structure, Hirsh-Pasek explains. Many, many, many studies echo her claims. Still, it’s not exactly harmful to defy this tone either, she notes.
Melanie Soderstrom, associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba, has studied the topic as well. She’s found that adults don’t always want to believe they change their voices. “A lot of parents tell me that they ‘never use baby-talk’ but then in the next moment you hear them talking with their baby, and they’re doing it,” Soderstom told Fatherly. To her, what’s important is that parents talk to their babies at all. If using infant-directed speech makes them self-conscious to the point of silence, she stresses that not using it is better than not talking at all.
Hirsh-Pasek agrees that the most important takeaway for parents is that they take the time to have a conversation with their kids. “Put down the cell phone, look in your child’s eyes for two minutes and have a real conversation,” she says. “What comes out of their mouths will be more informative than anything on that phone.” It might even influence how they baby-talk to your grandkids one day.
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