Your baby is thrilled to have you as a conversation partner and is catching on to more than you might realize. "They're very into back-and-forth communication [at this age]," says Claire Lerner, LCSW-C, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit focused on infant and toddler development. Even before babies have words, they communicate through their sounds, facial expressions, and gestures. And they tune in to and respond to your verbal and nonverbal communications.
Your baby should be blowing raspberries and babbling this month. You might hear her say "mamma" and "dada," but don't be heartbroken if she doesn't say "mamma" first. "A lot of times the 'D' is easier, the da da da sound," explains Yvette Warren, M.D., a family physician who helped develop the Countdown to Growing Up: A Growth and Development Tracker for the National Fatherhood Initiative. "They're kind of babbling; they're not associating it with you." But although babies are still learning labels for people and things, there's no doubt they recognize the special people in their lives, and they're keenly interested in trying to understand what you're saying.
"Over the next few months you should hear an increase in their babbling and using gestures to communicate, like pointing. You'll also see them starting to show understanding when you label objects," Lerner says.
Behold the power of the pause, both in conversation and play, and learn how to read your baby's communicative cues. "With play, you want to pause and give them a chance to respond," Lerner says. "In peekaboo, when you cover your eyes, a lot of babies will lean forward and kick their arms and legs, and you [should] say, 'Oh, it looks like you want to play again,'" Lerner says. "You're showing them their efforts at communicating are successful and effective because that's what encourages kids to keep on communicating."
The same goes at mealtime. "If you're feeding your child and he starts batting away the food, say, 'Okay, it looks like you're all done,'" Lerner says.
If you don't already, refer to yourself in third person so that your baby can more easily follow what you're saying. "The concept of 'I' or 'me' is more sophisticated," Lerner explains. "In this babyhood stage, you're labeling yourself as 'Mommy.'"
If your child isn't communicating with sounds or gestures and doesn't respond to your smiles, laughter, or peekaboo games, talk to your pediatrician or other trusted child development professional, Lerner says.
Your baby isn't interested in learning hand signs for words like more and all done. Hand signs can make it easier for a baby to communicate her needs nonverbally, but if you or your baby are not interested in using signs, no worries. There is no research that shows that babies who don't sign are less adept at communicating as they grow. "I think the signs are great," Lerner says. "The only caution is some parents take it on like an academic endeavor. It's a great thing to introduce or encourage, but don't make it a rote exercise that feels like a task. If [your baby] picks up on [signing], great. If she doesn't, don't sweat it. What's most important is to provide a language-rich environment."
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