Before Words

Laying the foundations for effective parent and child interaction

I recently visited a group of young mothers who have been meeting for several months now - since their babies were a few weeks old. I asked them what they thought was the most important thing they do as parents. They all said 'talking to my baby'.

This group of mothers has benefited from the 'Before Words' initiative.

The initiative involves giving cartoon resources with simple captions (reading age 9) to all families in Moray at four key stages in their child's life:

  1. From the beginning: 12-week scan appointment
  2. Before words: four to six weeks after birth/second visit four to six months
  3. First words: 13-month immunisation visit
  4. Words together: two-year developmental check

The messages are simple to understand and carry out and, with their emphasis on child-centred communication and positive relationships, they make a difference to parent/child interaction.

We completed a six-month pilot programme of visits in one area of Moray at the end of last year. Community nursery nurses visited each family with Before Words, play@home baby and a leaflet, when babies were six weeks, three months and six months old.  We gathered responses from 14 sets of parents by questionnaire.  Responses to questions about what they found useful about Before Words included:

'Lots of games and ways to encourage her to communicate. Importance of keeping background noise to a minimum.'

'Dad has found it useful to see what she should be doing at each age/stage of her development.'

"How to interact with her as a baby as I wasn't quite sure"


Initially, many parents did not understand the importance of their baby developing listening skills and early interaction as a foundation for language development, nor were they aware of their own importance in this process.

The pilot showed that all 14 sets of parents had developed a routine of 'quiet time' every day and were still sharing quiet time with their babies at six months.

On the basis of this pilot, nursery nurses now visit each family twice with Before Words and play@home at four to six weeks and four to six months after a baby is born. A simple screening tool at the back of the 'Red Book' measures the baby's progress in interaction, which parents can complete for themselves.

  • Early findings are mirroring those of the pilot:
  • Most parents find the visit a positive experience and only about 3% opt out
  • Parents are given a common language - they often quote messages in their feedback to us
  • Parents' awareness is raised
  • Their parenting skills are affirmed and new information is gained

More information at


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