Helping Your Baby Communicate

From the day he was born, your baby has been trying to communicate with you. That’s what all the crying, smiling, cooing, and babbling have been about. He’s saying, “I’m hungry,” “I’m sleepy,” “You make me happy,” and “I love you.” With each passing day, his communication skills improve. Sometime around your baby’s first birthday, he’ll probably come out with his first real word.

What’s more, speech development and social skills go hand in hand. Learning how to express his thoughts, wants, and needs will eventually help your child learn to connect with the people around him and become a sociable toddler. How can you support this amazing process?

•     Help your child find words. At 6 to 12 months, your baby isn’t ready to start talking yet, but when he puts forth a syllable, he’s making an attempt at words. So when he says, “ba,” help him out: “Are you looking for your ball? Do you want your bottle? Where did you put your book?” Speak slowly and enunciate clearly so he can hear the different sounds and connect them to what they mean.

•     Pay attention to your child’s nonverbal communications. Speech isn’t the only means of communication your baby will use. Between 8 and 12 months, he may start sending more and more nonverbal messages by pointing, gesturing, looking at what he wants, making faces, and even dancing. Grabbing a toy and banging it on the table may mean, “May I have your attention, please?” or “I’m so happy with my truck!” Whatever he does, take notice and respond.

•     Have conversations with your child. While you can’t expect your baby to talk back at this age, asking questions and waiting for a response teaches him the rhythm of conversation: You talk and I listen, then I talk and you listen. And don’t forget to respond when your little one cuts loose with baby babble. You may not understand his words, but it will encourage him to keep trying if you engage him.

•     Narrate your day. Tell your baby what you’re doing, ask him what he wants, and name what you’re seeing: “Let’s go find your blocks. Do you want the red one or the blue one? Oh, look! There’s your stuffed bear.” Rest assured that even though he can’t reply with words yet, he’s listening to and learning from everything you say.

•     Read to your child. Sharing books is an important way to support your baby’s early childhood development. It reinforces the power of words and helps your child move forward on the road to literacy, language, and learning.