Five to Thrive: Talk

The final part of Five to Thrive is dedicated to speaking or signing and activating the left side of the brain. 

For more information, see our speech and language pages.

On this page: 


Your baby loves the sound of your voice. When you talk to your baby you are laying down patterns and rhythms in their brain. This will help your baby to become verbal and connected. Your baby is hardwired for communication. 

  • Talk to your baby to reassure them 
  • Listen to your baby’s noises and talk back to them 
  • Sing nursery rhymes

It is important to involve your baby in what’s going on by telling them about it. Try to chat about what you are doing in your daily routines, for example by saying “Let’s change your nappy”:

  • Touch and name your baby’s arms and legs as you’re removing clothing
  • Tell your baby what’s coming next
  • Show them the nappy 
mother holding sleeping baby

When your baby has heard you repeat this many times, they will start to co-operate.

This will start when your baby is four and a half months. You might notice them lifting their arms and legs. Try not to rush with personal care routines like nappy changing and bathing. Give your baby your full attention and softly explain what you are doing at every step.

Describing what you are doing helps your baby to link words to activities. This also prepares them for what’s coming next. Your baby then starts to learn the skills of kind and respectful communication from you. This helps your baby feel secure and prepared. 

Imagine for a moment that someone came up behind you and lifted you up suddenly! You’d probably be startled or may even feel frustrated. Sometimes, especially if you’re in a hurry, you do this to your baby, often without making eye contact and explaining what is happening. But your baby needs to be wrapped in kindness and communication. Your baby also needs time to process what is happening to them and around them.

Have you noticed that you speak in a different way to your baby than to adults? Maybe you use a sing-song voice with a higher pitch, and you slow down your pace?

This is a well-known way of communicating with your baby, which is often done instinctively. Sometimes, you even see older children doing this with a baby.

Your baby will love it, so try not to be self-conscious. It takes a little time to adjust to hearing yourself speaking in such an unfamiliar way. It helps your baby to realise that the conversation is being directed at them. Soon they will tune in and pay attention. 

close up of smiling baby

Making eye contact with your baby will also help to keep their attention. Speaking clearly and slowly will help them to be able to pick out words that have meaning for them. Do not worry if your baby turns away from time to time. This is your baby taking time to absorb and then process their thoughts and feelings.
Be interesting and vary your tone of voice and facial expressions. When you communicate in this way, you are showing your baby that they matter. They love to have your undivided attention.

To get your baby’s attention, use their name. You may use a term of endearment, like sweetie, little dude, darling or little man. But, when you do, your baby will not learn to respond to their actual name. This is especially important if someone else is likely to be looking after them.


Talk to your toddler to give them the words to be able to express themselves. Your child needs you to give them the words to describe new experiences. Explain what they can and cannot do and how they feel. 

Try to get your toddler’s attention, by using their name. Young children can find paying attention difficult. They tend to have a ‘single focus’ and can get distracted very easily. You are more likely to hold their attention if you make some funny sounds like animal noises and if you vary the tone of your voice. 

Pre-school children

Chat about what your child is most looking forward to about starting school. Share positive stories about things you enjoyed doing at school.

It is good to talk to older children about their:

  • Feelings 
  • Emotions 
  • Actions 
  • Mind connections 
  • Body connections 

This will help them problem solve.

If your child is not behaving how you’d like them to behave, tell them what you would like to see them doing instead of what you do not want them to do. This will help them to understand. 

When you and your child are both calm you can talk about what happened:

  • Name the behaviour 
  • Name the emotion your child was feeling
  • Talk about and agree what your child could do differently next time

Older children

With older children, you can ask open-ended questions which require more than a yes or no answer. Ask descriptive questions when they are playing, like: “You’re playing with your car. It’s a lovely blue colour. Where is it going?”

It’s also often helpful to see what your child is looking at by getting down to their level. Then talk about it with your child. 

You could also try repeating what your child says in a slightly different way.
For example your child says, “the car is going to the zoo.”  You could say, “Who is in the car that is going to the zoo?”
For more information, see our speech and language pages.

Books and stories

It’s great if you have some props like puppets to bring stories to life. You don’t need anything fancy as you can make a sock puppet with an old sock and a couple of buttons. Faces on wooden spoons are also fun. 

Different family members may be reading the same books to your child. Adults all tend to read books differently and this variety is good for your child. You may: 

  • Focus on different words
  • Say things differently
  • Pay attention to different parts of the story
  • Use different voices for characters
dad telling baby a story

When you share a book with your baby you are helping them. Your baby will develop their concentration and attention span. You can help them to link words to pictures by pointing at them. You probably won’t get through the whole story as your baby will have a short attention span. But you’ve still provided the opportunity for your baby to share, handle and explore books with you. 

It’s worth joining your local library – you can borrow children’s books and go along to Rhyme Time too.

Below, Georgia reads Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson. You can find the following other stories on the Barnardo's Plymouth Facebook page:

Talk daily checklist

Have you: 

  • Praised your child?
  • Given your child time to respond in their own way?
  • Repeated your child’s babbles or words back to them?
  • Talked to your child?
  • Used a calm soft voice?
  • Understood your child’s cries and actions?
  • Listened to your child’s sounds?
five to thrive tower of blocks

This page was co-produced in partnership with KCA

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Last updated on 21 February 2024