Babies don’t always understand words. But you can still communicate with your baby using tone of voice, touch and body language.
Touch, cuddle and sing softly to your baby. These are first forms of communication. When babies cry, you can reassure them with your presence and a comforting, soothing tone. Babies respond to the emotions you’re communicating through what they see, hear and feel. They react to your sadness, tension, happiness or satisfaction.
Be aware that tone and body language make a difference. When babies hear ‘Stop!’ they’ll sometimes cry. This is because they’re reacting to the sharpness and volume of your command. In the same way, a soft, loving ‘good night’ when you’re tucking your baby into bed will comfort your child because of the soothing tone.
Stay physically connected. This is another way to communicate. Babies like being close to their parents. Holding them next to your body communicates reassurance and comfort. A carrier or sling also allows you to move around and carry on with your life.
Don’t be surprised if your baby cries when you’re on the phone. A baby knows when you’re not paying attention. Baby also knows how to get that attention back. Wailing can come at inconvenient times, but being aware of what’s causing your baby’s reactions might help you stay patient and deal with your baby in the moment.
Turn baby talk into a two-way conversation. Invite responses from your baby. Singing and chanting nursery rhymes are good ways to play with sound. They invite your baby to make a pleasing stream of sounds that eventually lead to talking.
Extend sounds and words to help children develop language skills. If your toddler says ‘Go home’, you might extend this thought by saying, ‘You want to go home. We can leave in a few minutes’.
Even if you’re not sure how much your child understands, talk anyway! Just like holding and kissing, words are an important way of staying in contact with your baby. They’ll help your baby begin to attach feelings and thoughts to sounds.
Play a sound game
Babies learn to communicate not only through the words you say, but by what you do, how you hold and touch them and respond to their needs. If you hear your baby make a sound like ‘Oh’ you might echo and extend it with an ‘Oh, ah, oh’. Soon you will be having a back-and-forth game of sound.
– Gillian McNamee, PhD, Director of Teacher Education, Erikson Institute