Newborns don’t talk much, and any conversation with them is going to be pretty one-sided. Once you’re past the greetings, and the cutesy or silly things people say to babies, you might feel like you’ve run out of things to say. But newborns need you to talk to them, because their brains are taking in language and cracking the code so fast that within a year they will understand your language and be starting to use it themselves. Also, the powerful mirror neurons that let us learn by imitation (and also help us empathize with others) are going full steam in a baby’s brain, and you are modeling behavior like talking which they will imitate. They can tell you are paying attention to them when you’re looking them in the eye and talking to them, and there is a pleasant feedback loop as they take that in, their brains are stimulated, they try to respond, and see your reaction.
Singing to them is always good—you don’t need to come up with things to say, and they respond well to the music—but just talking about whatever you feel like telling them, or blathering about what your wife isn’t interested in anyway, is a special interaction that not only benefits the baby, but helps them bond to your face and voice. Once you get over the feeling that you’re talking to yourself and realize there’s more to it than that, you can form a habit of active interaction and sustained attention that really adds to the intimacy of your relationship with your child.
Since they will imitate what you model, look for them to respond by babbling, yelling, humming, etc. In Italian there’s a saying: ‘Sbagliando s’imparo’—’Making mistakes, I’m teaching myself.’ Their responses might not mean anything, but they are doing their best to interact with you—to keep up their end of the conversation, if you will—so it’s not a failed conversation but a genuine interaction. And for that matter, that’s all most conversations are anyway—the pleasure of interacting, regardless of how efficient the communication is. At least with a baby you have an enthusiastic listener.
– James di Properzio
James di Properzio co-wrote The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, published March 2008 by Willow Creek Press, with his wife, Jennifer Margulis, a writer and photojournalist.