You have heard that it is important to read to and with your children, and that is true.

But it is even more important to talk to and with your children. U.S. research shows there is an incredible difference between ordinary American families in the amount of talking they customarily do, and that difference is closely related to the children’s eventual intelligence.  

The parents of children who were developing particularly well, spoke 32 million more words to their children, by age four, than did the parents of the children who were learning the least and who went on to school failure.

The “good learners” heard almost four times as many words spoken to them in the home, by age four, as the poorest learners did.

The ‘good learners’ heard 45 million words spoken to them, in the home by age four. The children developing least well heard only 13 million words spoken to them in the home by age four.

The amount of talk, to the children, in the home, was tightly linked with subsequent IQ scores. “With few exceptions, the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies were growing and the higher the children’s IQ test scores at age 3 and later.

“Amount of parent talk accounted for all the correlation between socioeconomic status (and/or race) and the verbal intellectual accomplishments of these 42 young American children.”

The rate at which children’s vocabulary grew was closely linked to their subsequent IQ scores.

Mothers do most of this talking, and this talking is building children’s intelligence

Mothers are the major childcarers of children from birth to age four.

Women speak 20,000 words a day. Men speak 7,000.

Women get a major dose of feel-good hormones from talking to anyone, but especially to their children and from responding to their children’s needs.

It’s words spoken to the children that count. Words overheard, or words from TV or radio do not count. It’s speaking to the child that counts.

Moira Eastman, PhD, is an Australian writer specialising in family topics.