Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often / Getty Images

Talking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills

Nappies could have parenting advice printed on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often, under proposals discussed by the UK’s so-called “nudge unit”.

The idea of using messages written on nappies, to aid awareness of how young children’s development can be greatly improved by parents speaking to them, was among “a handful of ‘next generation’ interventions” considered by the head of the Behavioural Insights Team.

Studies have shown that talking frequently to babies – and even pretending to understand their gurgles – can greatly improve their language and vocabulary skills.

Harvard scientists recommend that babies should be exposed to at least 21,000 words a day, besides anything they overhear on TV and radio. But the parents of young children can be among the hardest people to influence and educate through traditional public information campaigns.

Trial efforts by the Government to lure parents to free classes have so far been largely unsuccessful.

The Behavioural Insights Team’s theories of “nudging” people to adopt better life choices, rather than using the blunt force of legislation, have proved so successful that the unit was partly sold off by the Government as a profit-making venture earlier this year.

Dr David Halpern, the CEO of the unit, revealed in a blog that he discussed the nappy idea during a recent meeting at the World Economic Forum in Dubai.

Dr Halpern admitted the nappy plan was “the most left-field proposal” of family ideas discussed by the international council of behavioural policy makers he co-chaired. But he wrote that the proposal would be worked upon by the group. The Forum published an article after the meeting, arguing that changing a nappy is the perfect time to talk to a baby – but said that most parents remain silent because they are concentrating on the task.

“Therein lies the opportunity,” it says. “Add a note on the front of the nappy encouraging parents to ‘look up’ and ‘talk to your baby’ or to narrate what they are doing as they change the nappy.

“Small prompts like these may be just enough to remind parents that every second, a baby’s brain develops 700 new neural connections and that this is a good time to help make those connections stronger.”

However, parenting experts are divided on the merits of the idea.  Dr Ben Laskey, director and consultant psychologist at The Psychology Partnership healthcare group, called it a “very creative approach”.

“The more ways of getting positive messages out to parents, the better,” he said.

But Dr Ellie Lee, director of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent, said the idea was “invasive”, and argued it was trying to solve a problem that largely does not exist.

“You’ve got plenty to think about when you’re changing a nappy. The idea of turning it into an educational experience is insane,” she said.

She attacked “policy-wonk people sitting there in their offices dreaming up these ideas”, saying they should “get real with what it’s like dealing with being a mum”.