The More You Talk to Your Kids, the Smarter They’ll Be

My mom loves to tell me stories about what she used to do with us when we were kids, and how those things have made us who we are today. She stayed at home with my brother and me until we were in grade school, and, as a teacher, she was always planning educational activities and projects for us to complete. She thinks that it is because of this that I cannot go for longer than a few days without some sort of deadline or craft project to do, and she’s probably right.

She also read us TIME Magazine and the Chicago Tribune when we were infants. When I first heard that, I laughed. Did she expect us to understand what she was reading to us when we hadn’t even said our first words yet? “Of course not,” she replied, “but if I didn’t read it aloud to you, I wouldn’t have had time to read it otherwise. Plus, I figured it was good for you.”

Apparently, mother really does know best in this situation. According to a new article in the New York Times, talking to your baby can make all the difference when it comes to their education. Babies whose parents talk to their children more enter school more ready to engage with the learning process and, perhaps unsurprisingly, their language skills were much better, too.

The article cites a 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley at the University of Kansas. Their book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” inextricably linked the amount of words babies heard to their academic ability. It also linked the amount of words babies heard to socioeconomic status:

Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.

Not only was the amount of words a point of concern, but also the level of vocabulary. Children’s language skills begin to level off when they reach the level of their parents, so the disparity continues through the generations of poor families. This language disparity could also explain the gender gap in education, because the study found that parents talk much more to girls than they do to boys. This could explain why poor boys are more likely to fall behind in school than any other subgroup.

It seems like there is an extremely easy and almost free way to raise the IQ of your child: talk to him or her as much as you can. However, it might not be that easy. It’s not that poor parents don’t talk to their kids as much because they just don’t feel like it; often, parents who work low-wage jobs are forced to work longer hours or past their child’s bedtime in order to make ends meet. In cases where the child is being raised by a single parent, or where both parents are working low-wage jobs, having one parent stay at home isn’t usually an option.

So what are parents to do? The first step is to make the most of the time you do have to spend with your child, no matter how much time there is. If you are at a loss of what to say to your child, or you worry your vocabulary isn’t large enough, try what my mom did and read to your child. The more words your child hears, the better off he or she will be, so give it a try. It certainly can’t hurt.

Related Stories:

Poor Kids Start School 32 Million Words Behind

“Your Baby Can Read” Does Not, In Fact, Teach Baby to Read

Want Your Kids to Read? Give Them Banned Books

Photo Credit: Harold Groven


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

when my son was a baby i always had a convo going. What I was thinking came right out.. going over things in the store (what i wanted to try, what I didn't, what could we make for supper ect) and he is a great little communicator. Always very advanced.

Deborah S.
Deborah S4 years ago

I KNOW this is true. My oldest son (now 37) could read by age 3 and skipped from grade school straight to junior high because teachers said they had nothing left to teach him at that level. I attribute this almost entirely to my gift of gab and living nearly alone (with few friends) in a foreign country until he was almost 3. Having few adults to talk to, I spent all my time talking and reading to him. He could carry on a conversation with me by age 1.

Hello G.
Hello G4 years ago

Thanks .What you talk kids repeat the same vocabulary, until they develop their own by reading and listening to others.

Ken W.
Ken W4 years ago

The Republicans must not to their kids at all.

Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago


Marija M.
Marija M4 years ago

yes, it is true. thank you

John De Avalon
John De Avalon4 years ago

And the more love you show them, the better, kinder, more compassionate people they'll grow up to be...

John De Avalon
John De Avalon4 years ago

A no brainer!

Sound advice.

Laura Saxon
.4 years ago

Lovely article. Thanks for sharing.

Antony Mcgowan
Antony Mcgowan4 years ago