Adults just can't help themselves. Put an infant in front of them and they immediately fall into "baby talk." As a large person making funny noises and talking in a sing-song voice, we want baby to know we are friend, not foe. And of course we're also trying to cajole a laugh or smile, because there's nothing sweeter than a baby's laughter or cuter than an infant's smile. We instinctively know that our tone matters.
A new study looks at a baby's reaction to his or her mother's voice and the tone that is used verses the words that are said. Researchers showed that babies reacted in the same way to mom's voice regardless of what she is saying or what language she uses.
Babies watch their mothers perform different actions with toys using the English words "whoops" and "there." They then repeated the same actions and spoke the same words, but this time in Greek. Both times they used the same tone of voice.
The academics found that babies reproduced the same reaction regardless of whether they knew the language.
Study leader Dr Merideth Gattis, of Cardiff University's School of Psychology in Wales, said: "What this work showed was that children could have access to understanding using simply the tone of voice. "We did "whoops" and "there" in two languages and got exactly the same results - whether in English or Greek, which none of the children understood."
The research published in the journal Cognitive Development was conducted with 84 babies, aged between 14 and 18 months, in Cardiff over the course of a year with none of the babies having any previous exposure to Greek.
Gattis said that children respond to "tone" clues in their parents' speech from an early age.
"Tone of voice is a really useful signal to what someone is thinking. We never have access through to other people's minds, except the signals in language that we give out."
As with adults, babies respond to the tone of voice someone uses. A pleasant, comforting tone isn't threatening.
Gattis says that sometimes Health care providers will encourage first-time parents to talk to their new baby, but the parents feel uncomfortable. They aren't sure what to say. She says "this study shows that they shouldn't worry so much about what to say, but rather pay attention to the tone."
A newborn can tell the difference between the sound of a human voice and other sounds. Try to pay attention to how your little one responds to your voice, which he or she already associates with care: food, warmth, touch.
Communication begins right after birth. Babies learn through their senses at first, but then become accustomed to seeing you and hearing you. It doesn't matter what you say at this point, it's how you say it. A cheerful tone and comforting touch is very reassuring that someone who loves them is looking out for them.