YouTuber La Guardia Cross is a first-time dad who documents the adventure and misadventures of new-parenthood in his series The New Father Chronicles. There's daddy-daughter beatboxing, a look at a day in the life of a five-month-old, and a very funny video on the "blessing" that is nap time.
In a recent clip Cross interviews his daughter, Amalah, asking her a series of (very tongue in cheek) questions about sleep – specifically why she still doesn't sleep through the night – and why she doesn't contribute financially to the family.
The videos are a delightful snapshot of a father-daughter interaction. And yet, what Cross is doing – the way he is responding to his daughter and pretending to converse with her – is actually a lovely demonstration of some recent research findings.
A study published in the journal Infancy found that the way parents respond to their child's babbling can, in fact, shape how their infants communicate and even help accelerate their language development.
As part of the research conducted by The University of Iowa and Indiana University, 12 mothers and their eight-month-old babies were observed during 30 minutes of free play, twice a month, over a six-month period. Researchers noted the way mothers responded to their infants' babbling and cooing during the play sessions, distinguishing, for example, between directives ("push that"), questions ("do you want that?), and acknowledgements ("mmm-hmm"), amongst other types of responses.
When the children were approximately 15 months old, the mothers completed a survey about their infants' developing communication skills, including words and gestures.
Although the research focused on mothers, previous work conducted by corresponding author Julie Gros-Louis highlighted that mothers and fathers respond to their babbling infants at similar levels.
Researchers found that the children of mothers who responded to what they thought their babies were saying (as opposed to those who redirected their child's attention, or didn't try as hard to understand) showed a higher rate of growth in their language and communication skills. Their babbling had become more sophisticated, sounding like actual words. They also directed more of their babbling towards their mother.
The research highlights that parents may not understand what their baby is saying when they're babbling and cooing away, but by listening and responding to them in a conversation-like way, their children learn a valuable lesson about communication.
Specifically, they learn that their voices can be used for social interaction – and not just a way to make silly sounds.
It's what researchers classify as "imitative" responses from mothers that are the most effective. They write: "Imitations rarely took the form of imitating the sound that the infant made, but more often involved the mother modeling the word that the sound approximated and expanding on it (e. g., if the infant uttered "da-da-da," the mother would say "Da-da is working. I am ma-ma.").
So it seems La Guardia's videos aren't just entertaining – he might just be arming his little girl with valuable skills for her language development, too.