Having watched you for the last 6-9 months, boy, has your baby been learning a lot! Try a simple experiment. Get your baby’s attention and wave “Hello” to her. Does she try to wave back? Now, blow an exaggerated kiss to her with a loud “Muah!” Does she try to blow a kiss back to you? Maybe she reaches her little hand up and smacks her lips?
While these imitations are adorable, they are a sign of something more. At this age, babies primarily communicate by imitating actions they observe.1 Because of this, it is high time to make sure you use gesture language when speaking with your baby so that she can learn to copy your body language, too. Soon, she’ll learn to understand what each gesture means and be able to use them in “speaking” directly to you!2
How can I encourage my baby to use gesture language?
- Use simple gestures often when talking with her. Focus on gestures that babies commonly understand and use at this age: wave hello/goodbye, give high fives, blow kisses, and point to focus attention.
- Teach simple baby sign language. Helpful words to teach are her favorite foods, “more,” “book,” “done,” “eat,” and “milk.” While she probably won’t be able to sign back until she’s about 8 months old, she’ll begin understanding the gestures much earlier.4,5 So begin signing early!
- Pay attention to her gestures just like you would if she was speaking. This will help her feel successful in her communication, which will in turn reduce frustration and increase motivation to keep communicating.3
- Use spoken words with the gestures you use. This will help your baby make connections between the gestures and spoken words, preparing her for verbal language as well.
1 Maryland State Department of Education. (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting Development and Learning from Birth through Three Years of Age.
2 Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association. (2006). Ohio’s Infant Toddler Guidelines.
3 Sterling Honig, A. Infants and Toddlers: How Babies Use Gestures to Communicate. Early Childhood Today. Retrieved December 15, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/infants-toddlers-how-babies-use-gestures-communicate-0.
4 Passell, L. (2014). Baby Sign Language: 21 Words and Signs to Know. Parenting. Retrieved September 24, 2014, from http://www.parenting.com/gallery/baby-sign-language-words-to-know?page=20.
5 Hoecker, J.L. (2013). Is Baby Sign Language Worthwhile? Mayo Clinic: Infant and Toddler Health – Expert Answers. Retrieved September 24, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/baby-sign-language/faq-20057980.