As a parent with a baby in public, you will be witness to a very strange phenomenon. Human beings are compulsive communicators and, given a baby who is curious but wordless, they feel compelled to put extraordinary words into the infant’s mouth. Have you heard these kinds of things said to babies:

– ’Isn’t it a terrible world?’

– ’It’s not fair, is it?’

– ’Who is this silly old lady making faces at me?’ These tell you a great deal about the adult making the statements!

It’s hard to resist talking to babies and it’s very good for them. It is natural to try to imagine what the baby is thinking and feeling. Parents will watch for tiny clues in the fleeting expressions on the baby’s face, the tone of their babbling, pitch or rhythm of their cry and manner of their body. You literally put words into the baby’s mouth, and this is how they learn to speak and under-stand the world. So it pays to be aware of what you are saying.

I almost cried one day when I watched a new mother in a health centre waiting room, proudly holding her tiny, exquisite baby daughter and saying: ‘You’re a rotten little tramp, aren’t you? Yes, just a rotten little tramp!’ — all this said in a warm and pleasant voice. This mother loved and was proud of her baby, but was unable to say it straight out. She would not really want her child to take on those messages.

Since the urge is so strong to talk to, and for, babies, why not say what we really want the baby