Bradford babies talking

Gill Holden, Early Childhood Programme Lead at the National Children’s Bureau, reflects on five key messages presented at a unique event about speech and language development.

Gill Holden

Baby Week Bradford 2022, ‘Bradford Babies TALKING’ celebrated babies and their amazing communication skills. The ‘Speech, Language and Communication in the Early Years’ event shone a spotlight on speech, language, and communication development amongst younger children living locally in Bradford and shared food-for-thought from a national perspective.

As the first large-scale in-person event since the pandemic for the maternity and early years workforce across in the Bradford district, the excitement at being back together was palpable. The conference was packed with inspiration, helping attendees to gain a better understanding of how babies communicate, what they need, and how parents can be supported to develop a healthy relationship with their child.

1. Children need unconditional love and a secure foundation to flourish

Floella Benjamin (left)

Floella Benjamin, a passionate advocate for children and childhood, gave the keynote speech, telling the story of her childhood, the lessons she learned, and her journey through life as she has fought to make the world a better place for children.

Floella spoke with passion and enthusiasm about how unconditional love for children is a must from the start, something she experienced throughout her childhood despite difficult circumstances. She spoke about the four C’s, which parents and carers can model in order to support their children to develop, and which, along with unconditional love, provide a firm foundation from which children can flourish:

  • Consideration developing empathy and understanding for other people, not being judgemental but putting yourself in their position.
  • Contentment – having a happy contented heart.
  • Confidence – looking in the mirror and liking the person looking back at you – love yourself and give unconditional love.
  • Courage – having the moral courage to stand up for truth and being the person other people can trust.

Floella reminded us that what we do with small children matters, and that childhood lasts a lifetime, with memories staying with us right into adulthood and shaping who we become as adults.

Children need to know they are loved and cared for. Parents and carers need to know the importance of what they do, right from when their children are babies, and how this prepares children for the world they live in.

2. Babies are amazing communicators right from the start

Anulika Ifezue, Specialist Health Visitor and Lead for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health, Manchester Foundation Trust, and Senior Trainer at The Brazelton Centre, shared insights into how babies communicate through their behaviour and how important it is that parents, carers and practitioners understand this.

Babies are amazing communicators - from birth they are:

  • Competent – they use all five senses.
  • Organised – they have a system of behaviours.
  • Social – they actively engage in transforming their own environment from the beginning.
  • Individual – they have their own set of dispositions and sensibilities.

Seeing babies in this way changes the way we interact with them and The Brazelton Centre is working to put the baby's voice at the centre of care and relationships.

Key messages to share with parents and carers:

  • Babies have many amazing abilities, and they use their body language to communicate from birth.
  • Sensitive, responsive care is vital for early brain development, which builds foundations for lifelong, health and relationships.

It is important that parents and carers take time to interact with their baby when they are in a calm, alert state. Your face is your baby's favourite toy!

3. Early language intervention is vital to support children’s communication skills

BHT Early Education and Training has delivered the Talking Together programme for Better Start Bradford since 2015, providing language assessments for all two-year-olds in the Better Start Bradford area.

Rebecca Heald and Claudine Bowyer-Crane shared reflections on what they have learnt so far, concluding that there is an acute need for early language intervention, both locally in Bradford and nationally. The interventions provide vital support for families and help children develop their communication skills. This is done by helping parents and carers understand the importance of adult-child interactions, turn-taking and modelling language.

4. What fathers do, matters to young children

Jeszemma Howl, Head of Training and National Development at The Fatherhood Institute, talked about the importance of fathers and how what they do matters to young children. Fathers’ early involvement in their children’s lives has an impact on toddler behaviour and language development, with studies showing:

  • Two-year-olds show better cognitive development and display fewer behaviour problems when father’s early caregiving or play (3-6 months) was frequent, regular, positive in tone or engaged and active.
  • Toddler problems are greater when their father was disengaged, remote or critical in face-to-face interaction with them early on.
  • Fathers use different language and language structures with children than mothers do and can have a greater impact than mothers on their children’s language development.

The clear message is what fathers do, matters to young children, yet often fathers feel less included in services. Furthermore, the information provided when their children are young, often includes messaging that portrays mothers as the main care givers. It’s important that the information that men/dads receive is changed, so that dads are engaged and services for young children are fully inclusive for both mothers and fathers.

Those working with families can help dads if we:

  • Know who they are
  • Take them, and their role, seriously
  • Give information
  • Reflect
  • Avoid the pitfalls and assumptions.

5. Parents want to do the best they can for their children, but need the right information

Jo Claessens, Series Producer for BBC Tiny Happy People, provided an overview of Tiny Happy People and how it helps parents to develop their child's language skills. It aims to unpack science in an easy and engaging way, and support parents to create a rich home learning environment by providing examples of what to do and why.

Tiny Happy People aims to change the way parents interact with their child by providing role-models using real life examples. An evaluation by the University of Sheffield shows it is having a positive impact on parents’ behaviour and on children’s early communication, with initial results due to be published in January 2023.

Baby Week Bradford 2023: Bradford Babies TALKING showed the difference that can be made to babies’ and young children’s lives when parents, carers and practitioners understand how they communicate, know what they need, and strive to ensure all children get the childhood they deserve.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

Sign-up to join our mailing list

Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.