attachment parenting chronicles: why I speak in full sentences to my baby

I guess maybe it’s not really attachment parenting, but it’s my parenting. And even Dr. Sears recommends speaking in phrases rather than sentences, and dropping articles and pronouns.

I just can’t get behind that. It seems to me to be a slap in the face of attachment parenting, from the best-known attachment parenting advocate I know of. How can you be truly attached to your child if you don't speak to her the way you would speak to any human being?

I certainly sometimes use a pitch with my Pie that I wouldn’t normally use, and I emphasize, draw out, and repeat words to her more than I would if I were talking to my mountain man or to a colleague.

But I just can’t use baby talk.

And I can’t do the ba-ba-goo-goo business. If she makes a sound I’ll repeat it, and use the sound in a word. Like when she goes “ba” I repeat it in a warm and excited tone, and then say “ball”.

Baby talk makes me crazy. I really don’t like it when people use baby talk. And I think it’s counter-productive.

Like watch this. Here’s a common example in our home, and this phrase follows the exact advice that Dr. Sears offers - to limit your words to the "important" words in a sentence.

“Look cat lick butt!”

Am I saying “look, at the cat, he’s licking his butt!”?

Or maybe “Look, there’s the cat! Maybe you should go lick his butt!”?

DSC_0746Big difference.

But I was probably saying “Look here, cat. Stop licking your butt or it’s all dry food for you from here on out!”

I would argue that articles and pronouns, and other non-object words are important words in sentences.

And if I am emphasizing words with tone and vowel length, my Pie will know which words are meaningful and ignore the ones that bear less information for her. And that’s the Dr. Sears argument for dropping the “small” words in a sentence – that they clutter the baby’s brain with words that are not useful to them.

Can using only fragments of normal adult speech make babies become better speakers? Can it make them understand language sooner and learn to identify that every thing has a word that goes with it?

I don’t really believe it.

I believe that using full sentences fosters self-worth in children and a sense of independence. A child who is spoken to as a relevant person will believe that she is relevant, meaningful, important, worth the effort and thought that goes into producing full sentences. She will believe that, at least on some level, she is an equal with the people who are speaking to her. She will be able to comprehend, form, and articulate her thoughts. When we speak to our children as if they are people, they know that they are, that their experience matters, and that they matter.

I am starting to use ASL signs with my Pie, and of course I only sign the key words – and I guess that is kind of the same method that’s being advocated here, the same thing I’m contesting.

But here’s the deal.

I’m not fluent in ASL, and I don’t expect my Pie to become fluent in ASL. In fact I don’t expect her to ever sign in full sentences. I am hoping for some phrases some day, but by the time she can sign in phrases she’ll probably be getting close to speaking, too. I am using ASL basically as a pre-speech communication method so that I can understand what the Pie wants.

It’s not about teaching her language, I speak in full sentences so that she’ll learn language. And it’s not about teaching her a skill that she can slap on her college applications, although if she keeps it going (and learns to sign in full sentences) that may be a merry little side effect.  I am teaching her to sign because I don’t want to deal with a crying baby.

Yup, said it.

Selfish, selfish selfish.

If she is able to effectively communicate with me, tell me what she needs by using single words or a few words strung together, I don’t have to listen to her cry!


That wasn’t much of an argument for why I speak in full sentences. "Bam."  My college philosophy professor would be so proud.

There is a lot of noise in the world that she has to either tune out or learn to work around. Pronouns and articles, like the furnace turning on, the radio, a car driving by, or the washing machine buzzing, are all sounds that are largely meaningless to her. But wait! People say that exposing your baby to these things helps them LEARN about what things do!

Machines buzz when their job is done. Furnaces turn on, and you feel heat and air moving. A radio brings music and stories. A car… makes noise when it drives by. Articles and pronouns also make noise when they drive by.

And cats make noises when they lick their butts. DSC_1051

(I thought about putting a picture of my cat licking his butt here, I certainly have plenty of those. But I chose to go for decency, for your sake and the sake of my argument. You're welcome.)


  1. Keep it up. I always spoke in full long sentences to my babies, and now they are articulate 7 and 4 year olds, both scoring in the gifted range for their ages at school. When my older son was 5, he asked me to teach him one new word every night at bed time (we would do words like "flabbergasted" or "emphasize" or "camouflage"). By the way, we also did the Baby Sign Language, and my older son exploded with signs at about 11 months, and really did not talk until age 2. Glad to have some basic signs to help!
    The other huge thing you did not touch on in this posting is reading to your child. We read to both our boys every night, and have done it since they were inside my tummy. My first-grader loves to read and is at a 3rd grade level! it works!
    (please ignore my blog's post about TV today)

  2. HI MOV! (Please ignore the fact that my TV is on right now...)

    Reading is also so important. We read every day, and I recite stories to the Pie. And sometimes if she won't fall asleep and I want to read something for adults, I'll read out loud to her whatever it is that I'm reading. I kind of do it in soft "baby book" voice, but that's usually because I want her to fall back asleep or it will keep her more interested. We read, and we talk. My mom always spoke to us like real people, and I'm happy to be passing that tradition on. So glad it worked so well for your boys! Thanks for reading!

  3. I speak in full sentences to my children because that's how I speak. If I speak to them in phrases, it's because that's how I would say it to anyone. Maybe I want to be in a David Mamet play, but not really. We're also lucky with our third. He has freakishly good language abilities speaking in full, complex sentences all the time.


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