This is a guest post by Julie Miller
Communication begins at birth. Communication is not the same as talking. Talking is only a small part of communication. Babies do not talk from birth (as a general rule), but they do communicate. The communication skills used before the onset of real words are called “pre-verbal communication skills”.
You can help promote your baby’s pre-verbal communication skills from the beginning of his/her life.
(A) 0-8 months – Pre-intentional stage
Babies’ communication at this age is preintentional (babies do not predict any particular outcome from their behaviours). Intentional communication begins to develop as adults respond consistently to babies’ actions.
1) Observe and follow baby’s lead
* Recognise baby’s state (e.g. sleep, drowsy, quiet alert, active alert, crying). A baby in the quiet alert state is ready to interact.
* Identify baby’s focus of attention, and use simple language to describe what baby is touching, looking at.
2) Promote interactive behaviour
* Imitation and turntaking.Copy baby’s behaviour and wait for a response. Baby’s behaviour could be vocal (e.g. vowel sounds and babble “ah”, “ee” etc) or motor actions (e.g. facial expressions, moving hands). This is often referred to as “match and wait”.
* Joint Attention. Start by following baby’s focus of attention as above, respond and later introduce a new object of focus. (e.g. When both my children were younger, they were fascinated by lights. I felt like I was forever commenting; “Ooh, lights. You are looking at the lights.” Baby’s attention would generally switch to me, rather than the lights, when I spoke. I could then introduce a new focus such as a toy).
* Anticipatory sets. This refers to interactive games we play with babies. The games are always the same, and use predictable patterns of actions and words. Examples are “peek-a-boo” and “I’m going to get you”.
3) Monitor vocal development
Vocal communication in babies progresses from crying and reflexive sounds, through vowel sounds, repetitive consonant sounds and varied consonant sounds.
As parents, we naturally adjust our vocal patterns when interacting with babies. You may have heard of “motherese”. Babies engage more with voices that are high-pitched and use exaggerated intonation. They like simple words and short, repetitive sentences. You can also respond to baby’s vocalcommunication by imitating and modelling new sounds (e.g. baby says “ahh”, parent says “ahh…boo”).
(B) 9-12 months – Developing intentional communication
From about 9 months, babies begin to understand more about the world, and how their actions can impact the responses of those around them. Parents of older babies can begin to push communication skills a little more.
1) “Up the ante”
* Aim to elicit a higher-level of response from baby. For example, when playing “peek-a-boo”, parent may begin by simply pausing before revealing his/her face. Next, parent may wait for baby to act (e.g. baby pulls at parent’s hands). After this reaction is established, parent may wait for a vocalisation as well (e.g. baby says “ahh” and pulls at parent’s hands).
* Reward gestures and vocalisations that are used for communication (e.g. pointing, waving, sound to get parent’s attention, attempts at words).
* Demonstrate relationship between actions and words (e.g. as baby reaches up to be picked up, parent says “up”).
* Use lots of books – show pictures, then encourage pointing, then vocalising and eventually labelling pictures.
2) Work on comprehension
Helping baby to link objects and actions with their word labels is very important at this stage. Comprehension of language provides the basis for later expressive language/ talking.
Games involving labelling and pointing to body parts, pictures in books and familiar objects help with developing comprehension. (You will need to physically help baby to touch objects at first). Labelling actions as you do them is also important (e.g. “clap hands”, “we are clapping”, “wave”, “kiss daddy”, “you’re crawling” etc).
3) Provide communication temptations
(Note: this is to be used with older babies and toddlers only). You are initiating a situation where baby will be highly motivated to initiate communication. Depending on the level you are aiming for, wait for your baby/ toddler to either gesture, vocalise or attempt a word. Some good examples of this are:
* Eating a desirable food item in front of the child without offering any until child gestures or vocalises (a bit mean, but quite motivating!).
* Blow some bubbles, put the lid back on tightly, and hand the bubbles to the child. (This can be used with any toy/ game requiring adult help).
* Initiate a familiar play or daily routine, then change it a bit – wait for child to respond.
* Use unusual/ new sensory experiences (e.g. sticky, cold, wet substances).
What are your experiences of communicating with babies?
Julie Miller is a Speech Pathologist, wife, mother and blogger. She has worked in private practice, community health and early intervention programs since graduating in 2000.