Dispensing with the baby talk

A doctor’s surgery is a clinical place; professional, clean. A monument to science and learning. So I was a bit shocked during a recent visit when the new GP – a learned man of many years of education and practice – started talking in sing-song baby talk.

Granted it was to one of my three-year-old girls but does that really make it any better? Baby talk has always bugged me a little for some reason and I briefly considered saying something.

Turns out I didn’t need to. When he declared he was going to use his “magic listening thingy”, Gypsy looked at him and shook her head.

“It’s called a stethoscope,” she said helpfully. Politely. No hint of sarcasm or patronising which I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep out of my voice. he was surprised to say the least.

I’ve never really used baby talk. I can’t say it was a fully conscious decision but it never really occurred to me. Make no mistake – I talk to them with tremendous affection and playful tones: it’s just that I’ve never dumbed down my speech to them.

Why do so many people talk that way to our kids? It’s a bit like when people talk slowly and loudly to people who don’t speak their language. I’ve never been sure how repeating a message with a different speed and volume is expected to work but it’s a ritual that persists the world ‘round.

So is it genetically ingrained that – when faced with a baby – we exaggerate and put strange emphasis on words?

Well there are some studies that actually say yes. I recently read a paper that demonstrated mothers exaggerated the words “shooooooe”, “shaaaaaaark” and “sheeeeeep” with their babies but not to their pets with the same toys and words. This is apparently important and may explain why dogs and cats are yet to get their own radio drive show, but the paper’s authors instead chose to conclude that mothers shouldn’t feel bad about baby talk.

Strangely, all the research I found (in a whole 20 minute period) merely dealt with mothers, so maybe there’s an unrecognised gender divide at work here?

having said that, we’ve already had the tale of an extremely well-educated doctor doing his best kids- presenter impersonation so maybe it’s just me that’s weird?

I’ve also always answered their questions openly and honestly and – if I’m completely truthful – probably a little too scientifically at times. No “just because” or “it’s magic” (magic tricks excepted). Just breakdowns of the what and why.

Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. over the years I’ve explained relativity, force lift, file transfers, the laws of physics, space travel and a slew of other topics. All instigated by them, not me. They retain some information, discard other data and often mix them up in confusing but entertaining ways.

I don’t think I’ve held back their development with this matter-of-fact approach. I certainly hope not. But if one day they come to me accusingly, at least I can explain the realistic likelihood of time travel and how we can’t change the past.

And they should understand.