Crib talk and your toddler

What do Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Baby have in common? If you guessed that they’re all royalty, you might be right, but more than that, there’s a good chance that your toddler is getting the same taste for giving monologues as any character Shakespeare ever wrote. Toddlers’ monologues usually happen in their cribs or beds after they’ve been kissed goodnight and left to drift off, which is a great theatrical instinct – it’s not really a soliloquy if the speaker thinks they have an audience. These little speeches are called “crib talk,” and they’re a normal, common part of language development.

What is crib talk?

Crib talk is common in all children, including children on the autism spectrum, and deaf children – toddlers who are learning to sign will start to babble and narrate to themselves in the same way before they drift off to sleep, watching their fingers as they experiment with signing.

Crib talk often starts around a year and a half old, and can last a year or longer. If you’re concerned that Baby’s nighttime chats are getting in the way of their sleep, try moving their bedtime a little earlier, to give them the chance to chat. Crib talk may play an important part in language development, learning, and letting toddlers think about the world, so don’t worry about trying to rush them off to dreamland before they have the chance to chat with themself a little.

Why does crib talk happen?

It’s not entirely clear why so many toddlers soothe themselves to sleep by chattering to themselves for a while, but researchers have some theories. Katherine Nelson, who observed one of the most famous case studies of crib talk – the night-time ramblings of a 15-month-old girl named Emily – theorizes that crib talk is a way for children to practice using their growing vocabularies, to try out constructing sentences, and to process their thoughts about the day.

When toddlers use this time to process the experiences they’ve had, it can lead them to parrot back some of the things they’ve heard during the day, so don’t be surprised if you hear some of your own words coming out of Baby’s mouth.

  • Julia S. Falk. “Reviews: Narratives from the crib.” Language. 66(3): 558. Web. September 1990.
  • Henry Jenkins. The Children’s Culture Reader.  New York: New York UP, 1999. Print.
  • Katherine Nelson. “Narratives from the crib.” Boston: Harvard University Press, 2006.
  • Laura Ann Pettito. “On The Biological Foundations of Human Language.” In K. Emmorey and H.Lane (Eds.) The signs of language revisited: An anthology in honor of Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima. Mahway, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Inc.
  • Annemarie Shaerlaekens. “Crib speech in autistic and psychotic children: case studies of form, content and function.” First Language. 17(51). Web. April 1 1997.

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