OB/GYN Owen Phillips, MD, FACOG promotes healthy pregnancies and deliveries at Regional One Health. But she believes obstetricians can also have an impact beyond a child’s birth.
Dr. Phillips is on a mission to educate patients while they’re still pregnant about the importance of reading, talking and singing to their newborns. Doing so can enhance a child’s vocabulary. Research shows the number of words students know in elementary school predicts their likelihood of graduating high school.
Using an Urban Child Institute grant, Dr. Phillips created OB CARES to help patients read, talk and sing to their infants in a way that will boost their vocabularies and chances for success. Here are her suggestions for six easy ways parents can interact with their children every day:
Pretend you’re a play-by-play announcer
Remember the last sporting event you watched on TV? Someone basically narrated what you were seeing on the screen? Do that for your baby.
When you fold the laundry, point out the color of the shirts and pants. Talk about the taste and smell of the food you eat. If you go outside, describe whether it’s hot or cold; rainy or sunny.
It may sound like boring chatter, but your baby will hang on every word. She’ll learn the rhythm of conversation and new vocabulary and to associate your voice with comfort and love.
Read – even if you don’t have a baby book handy
Dr. Phillips often demonstrates for patients how to read to their children. Even if all she has is a magazine or piece of paper from the exam room, the kids are captivated.
Baby books are great because they feature the bright colors kids love, but anything can serve as reading material. If you have a grocery store ad, point to the milk, fruits, vegetables, etc. and say their name and color. Flip through a magazine and describe what people in the ads are doing.
The idea is for your child to hear new words and see reading as a fun, positive part of every day.
Get on their level
During playtime, get down on the floor with your baby and talk to him about his favorite toys. When you read to him, hold him in your lap so he can see the words in the book.
Nobody likes to be talked down to all the time. That includes your baby! Kids are even more interested in what adults have to say when you talk to them face-to-face.
Make up a song just for your baby
Try making up a song to teach your baby her name. Pick a familiar tune and substitute her name for some of the words. For example, make her the “Star” in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or the “Sunshine” in “You are my Sunshine.”
Don’t worry if your song is silly or you can’t carry a tune. Your baby is a forgiving audience. Music teaches her how to listen and about the flow of conversation.
Put yourself on repeat
Reading the same book or singing the same song over and over may get a little tedious. But think of it this way: you don’t have the pressure of coming up with new material.
Your baby thrives on repetition. Hearing the same words and phrases again and again will help him remember them and make them a permanent part of his vocabulary. If he has a favorite book or song, go ahead and return to it every time you read or sing together.
Make your baby part of the conversation
Talking, reading and singing to your baby isn’t something to do “to” them, it’s something to do “with” them. Try to respond to what your baby shows an interest in.
If she points to a picture of a cat, tell her cats are soft and fluffy, and they say meow. If she babbles when you sing, imitate her and add words so she hears how sounds become words. By reacting to your baby, you keep her engaged and show her communication is a two-way street.
About Dr. Phillips
Along with her medical degree from University of Mississippi School of Medicine, she holds a master’s in public health from the University of Memphis, which influences how she practices medicine.
“To understand income inequality, health care status, poverty and how that affects patients’ lives is to understand Memphis and the challenges patients face every day,” she said.
To support the innovative and compassionate work of physicians like Dr. Phillips, visit the Regional One Health Foundation at www.regionalonehealth.org/foundation.