When Parent & Baby Interact

Cooing and oohing help develop baby’s dynamic intelligence.

When Parent & Baby Interact


I confess – I was addicted to watching parent/baby communication for 20 years before I had my own kids. As a Montessori teacher, I had frequent opportunities to watch, and be amazed by, the interactions between parents and babies! There was that language they both understood, although only one of them spoke it. Where did they learn it? How do parents know what their baby wants? How do babies know that by yelling loudly enough they can take full control? What’s really developing, when parents and babies communicate? (The brain – that’s what!)

After my first baby was born, his Dad and I became fluent in “parent-ese” – cooing and oohing, singing snippets of songs, remarking to the baby about this and that as if he needed the information! Eleven years later, we have three articulate children whose joint vocabularies can corner us both! Obviously they learned language, but more than that – they learned to communicate.

At the same time as they learned to listen and to speak, each learned to interpret and respond to facial expressions, and hand and body gestures. Our children progressed through this process at different rates. One of them was responding to social cues by two weeks old; one has autism, and needed help to pick them up; and our preemie was on her own schedule. But at 11, 7 and 5 years of age, there is not much we can slip by these kids, should we be so inclined!

Life is dynamic

Remarkably, babies and parents are pre-program-med with “parent-ese”, the vital function of which is to foster the relationship which will develop the baby’s dynamic intelligence. Humans need both static and dynamic intelligence. Static intelligence enables us to learn static (unchanging) skills – tying our shoes, using cutlery, mailing letters, and so on. Dynamic intelligence is needed to learn dynamic skills, to manage change. Having conversations, driving, making friends, working in teams, falling in love – life is dynamic, and eternally unpredictable! Playing games like Peek-A-Boo increases your babies’ dynamic intelligence each time you play.

For the majority of parents the behaviour that will build their infants’ dynamic intelligence emerges naturally, if it was taught to them in the first year of their own lives. If a parent knows that they were poorly parented themselves, community resources, such as the Ontario Early Years Centre, can help them learn alongside their own babies.

Three essential factors

There are three factors in the parent-child relationship which are essential to the development of a child’s dynamic intelligence. Firstly, baby and parent need to establish some basic back-and-forth communication by about 10 months of age. From
birth, babies are attracted to the sounds and 

movements of their parents’ faces. This is the start of the pattern recognition that leads to reciprocal 
communication, with plenty of chortling laughter between baby and adult.

Secondly, the baby must recognize the parent as his/her primary reference point. This means s/he “checks in” with mom or dad when the going gets rough! In moments of stress or distress, baby returns to where the best hugs are available.

Finally, the baby must start to develop resilience. Typically, by about 12 months of age, babies realize that communication breaks down, and that they can try to repair it. Most babies find ways to “repeat” their request when we misunderstand them, and repeated success in repairing breakdowns results in resilience. Babies learn quickly that they can initiate, participate and control the game, and that they can manage the experience of disconnecting and reconnecting with their parents.

When factors are missing

Since we know that all developmental challenges are more effectively addressed with early identification, parents who miss these three factors in their one year old may wish to discuss the matter with their health-care provider. The absence of these factors by 18 months old may indicate low vision or deafness, autism or attachment disorders. Human brains develop in response to experience, and conversely, they do not develop without it.

Once the parent and baby have reciprocal com-munication, identification and resilience in place, dynamic intelligence will develop and the baby is equipped to manage the dynamic nature of life.

Author: Ruth Strunz

Ruth Strunz is the mother of three wonderful children, and co-owner of Child’s Play Montessori School; ruth.strunz@gmail.com.

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