The Importance of Banter With Young Children

Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D.

Banter, or informal and spontaneous chatting, gossiping, joking and storytelling, can be incredibly beneficial for young children. Researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that daily exchanges between a parent and a child shape language and vocabulary development. Informal talking with children (banter) expanded their knowledge and skills, and had lasting effects on their performance later in life. Research also shows that 86% to 98% of the words used by a child by the age of 3 are derived from their parents’ vocabularies!

Benefits of Banter

Language-Rich Environment
Banter is one great way to build a language-rich environment in the early childhood years. By talking to your child about your neighbors, the weather, your weekend plans, the funny thing that Grandpa said, the construction project across the street, a dream you had last night, the phases of the moon, a trip you took once, or a silly song you learned – you grow your child’s vocabulary.

Intellectual Development
By talking with your child about problems or quandaries – such as a curtain rod that’s been difficult for you to fix, what you should do with your day now that it’s raining, how you will get the laundry folded, or what present you should buy for your great aunt’s 90th birthday – you invite children to problem-solve beside you. When you note sensory details such as how you love the smell of the banana bread in the oven, how you hear an airplane, or how your grapefruit is so sour, kids become more in-tune with their own senses. Predicting with kids might involve questions like, “I wonder what you’ll have for snack next week at school,” and “What do you think Dad will pack for his work trip?”

When you tell kids embarrassing or funny things, you can also share the stories of how you survived and laughed about it. “I remember when I got a flat tire in the rain. I asked this man to help me fix it and he did and that was so nice of him.”

“I was waiting for this letter in the mail that just never came. Then I went to the post office to ask about it and it was actually there waiting for me.”

These stories show kids that when they mess up or experience a challenge, they can work it out.

Banter brings you closer to kids. You connect through listening and sharing your own experiences, thoughts, dreams, musings and observations. By interacting, you offer moments of presence that nurture your parent-child relationship. Banter can also be playful, joyful and involve lighthearted fun and teasing.

Social Skills
There’s a real art to banter, to being able to talk to people about anything (and listen even better). Conversations provide the foundation for a child’s future relationships to thrive.

Sample banter topics include:

  • What’s going on in your neighborhood
  • What you’re doing this weekend
  • Your favorite place in the world to visit and why
  • What you’re most excited about right now
  • What you dreamt about last night
  • What cousins, grandparents or aunts and uncles are doing
  • Details about friends – similarities, differences and what they are up to
  • A funny or embarrassing thing that happened to you one time
  • Upcoming holidays
  • Funny memories about your kids
  • A favorite trip you took
  • The seasonal changes outside
  • What you’re so grateful about today
  • Some things on your to-do list
  • Issues that you have to problem solve

Many other topics may fit into your unique life, and banter is most beneficial if your individual personality shines through them. The best banter is a compelling combination of asking questions, listening, laughing and bringing up topics.

Banter is a great fit for down time, such as meals, driving, waiting in line, bath time, waiting for kids to get ready for school or walking. Every parent needs to recharge and “do their own thing” at times, but making an effort to chat with your child during some of the quiet spaces of the day can result in huge dividends.

Parts of this blog have been excerpted from book The Joy Fix for Weary Parents” and have been published previously on Psychology Today.

Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D.

Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D., author of the forthcoming book “The Joy Fix for Parents: 5 Steps to Overcoming Fatigue, Guilt, and Stress and Building a Life You Love,” is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs, you can find more at Sign up to receive free updates on, or follow her on Facebook  or Twitter.