While every baby is different, many of the cues and physical movements that they make are a means of expression and are mostly universal.
Although babies may not say their first word for almost a year, they start communicating with you immediately after birth.
They do this through their behaviors, including eye contact, hand movements, body positioning, facial expressions, sound-making, and other non-verbal behaviors. Through these, they convey their thoughts, feelings, and situational comfort.
As a caregiver, you can study and interpret your baby’s behaviors by listening, watching, and responding to him/her.
Here is a list of ways your baby is communicating with you at various ages and stages of their growth and development…
Birth to 6 Months Old
- I cry to let my caregiver know what I need
- I show distress by sucking on my hand or turning away
- I stop crying when someone talks to me quietly
- I turn toward faces, voices, and sounds
- I imitate sounds I already know
- I show excitement when I want things to continue
- I smile when I’m happy, comfortable, and feel safe. Just so you know, my smile usually is a reflex until I’m about 2-months of age. My real smile kicks in usually after 1 ½ to 3 months of age.
- I babble “oohs” and “coos” for the 1st through the 2nd month. Shortly after that, these sounds I make usually turn into “words” like, “momma”, “dada”. This occurs when I’m about six months or older.
- I reach for momma and everything close to me because I want to explore what I see, hear and can touch
6 to 12 Months Old
- I begin to understand social gestures
- I wave bye-bye
- I may say “dada” and “momma” to refer to specific people
- I look at what others are looking at
- I use non-verbal requests and gestures to let you know what I want. For example, I point to objects or raise my arms to be picked up.
- I open and close my hands. This is my improvement over grabbing your finger shortly after my birth and clinching my fist usually after six or eight weeks of age.
- I focus my eyes on almost all movements
- I will crawl away to show my disinterest or disengagement
- I will clap my hands to show my joy, excitement, or happiness. Sometimes I’ll just clap my hands to develop a sense of rhythm.
12 to 24 Months Old
- I begin to talk with recognizable words
- I understand simple verbal directions. I can understand certain gestures or commands, like “go get your toy,” etc.
- I initiate routines and games like “peek-a-boo”
- I ask a lot of questions such as, “What is this?”
- I can talk about things that are not in sight
- I can shake my head “yes” or “no” to show my interest or disinterest or refusal. Just to let you know, I’m developing preferences and personality.
24 to 36 Months Old
- I ask lots and lots of questions, such as “Why?”
- I use sentences
- I start and engage in short conversations
- I can talk about things happening in the past and future
- I can verbalize when I’m happy or sad
Throughout All Ages and Stages
Parents need to be observant and patient as their baby grows.
At times it is hard to determine what your child might be thinking, feeling, or doing.
These are some tips and other communication morsels that you’ll encounter from time to time…
- Your observation is critical for interpreting your child’s behaviors
- Make use of your child’s available senses. These include vision, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching
- Speak naturally and close to your child’s ear
- Reduce unnecessary noise whenever possible
- Hold your baby on your chest and dance or sway in time to vocalizations or music. This will help your baby make connections between sound and movements
- Whenever possible, imitate your child’s vocalizations and actions. This will provide good feedback and enhance bonding
- Use infant games and don’t be afraid to be silly
- Children express various types of crying, e.g. hungry, tired, uncomfortable, pain, love, attention, sounds, time of day or night, etc. Be patient, it takes time for parents to learn what each cry is.
- Your child falling asleep may be because of tiredness, being overwhelmed, or not feeling well. It will help to have rituals and patterns that you can use in determining how you respond.
- Your child’s fast breathing may be a sign of frustration. This is particularly true at the toddler age. Look for any patterns and changes. Pre-tantrum behavior usually is a signal of being overwhelmed or overtired.
- Your child tugs at their ears. These can be fun to play with, but it might also be a sign of infection or an accumulation of ear wax.
- Your child kicks their legs. This could be a common expression of playing or, on the opposite end, an aggressive way of expressing feelings such as frustration or annoyance.
- Your child will form their lips into an “ooh” shape. This generally means “I want to play.”
- Your child puts their hand or hands behind their head. Most often they are showing you a sign of pain or discomfort, but then again, they could just be tired and ready to wind down.
- Your child looks away. Most often they are giving you a sign that they are tired of the social interaction or possibly the overabundance of eye contact.
- Crying means. . .
- I’m hungry
- I need to burp
- I have a dirty diaper
- I need to sleep
- I want to be held
- I’m too cold or too hot
- I’m in pain
- I have teething pain
- I want less stimulation
- I want more stimulation
- I’m not feeling well