Baby talk: teaching babies to communicate
Long before babies can talk, they are able to communicate in a multitude of ways. Infant communication is shown through eye contact, reciprocal smiling and the use of hand gestures such as pointing, giving, pushing away, raising their arms, showing, reaching, waving, and shaking and nodding their head.
Indeed, from a very early age, both babies and children have a very strong desire to bond, communicate and connect with those around them, says Professor Kate Taylor from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, who conducts research in children’s language development.
Nature has wired parents and babies with vastly satisfying ways of communicating from the beginning of life. “Parents only have to wait for three weeks to experience their infant’s first social smile – even at this early age babies coo in response to conversation,” she says.
How do babies communicate?
The following, Professor Taylor says, are ways in which babies communicate with their parents, and at what stage of development they generally do it:
- From birth, infants communicate emotions such as interest, distress and displeasure.
- At 12 weeks, babies engage in conversation – when their parents respond verbally to their vocalisations, they re-vocalise.
- At around three months, parents and babies focus on each other and on what is happening around them.
- By three to four months, babies understand routines such as feeding and soon let parents know if there is an unexpected and unwelcome change in a routine such as feeding. At this age, babies participate in games such as ‘peekaboo’ and ‘this little piggy.
- By five months, babies imitate their parents’ vocalisations and simple gestures to show pleasure, displeasure, satisfaction, anger and eager anticipation.
- At around seven months, babies listen to familiar words, follow simple instructions, and play close attention to objects and events that their parents focus on.
- Between eight and 12 months, they vocalise when they gesture and by 12 months children say their first words.
How to help your baby communicate
Professor Taylor says parents can help babies develop language by following their lead:
- Talk about what interests your baby – by following your baby’s eye gaze (ie, looking at what your baby is looking at).
- Talk about what your baby feels and thinks – by watching your baby’s face and listening to the sounds your baby makes.
- Talking about what your baby does – by watching your baby’s actions and gestures.
- Help your baby understand your words – by using eye contact, facial expressions, actions and gestures.
- Take it in turns to communicate - give your baby time to use their sounds, facial expressions, actions and gestures to communicate to you.
- Copy your baby – babies love it when you use their sounds, facial expressions, actions and gestures – do what they do.
- Keep your sentences short.
- Emphasise important words.
- Sing songs together – songs you know and songs you make up for your baby.
- Look at books together – read the story and make up your own story.
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