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Going Home - Your Baby's Development

Communication and language

Communication is an activity, which needs a combination of all our senses, i.e. vision, hearing, smell, touch and overall good body tone and posture to help with early non-verbal gestures such as reaching and pointing.

Communication development

Moving our mouths for feeding is very important. It is also important for speech sounds to develop. Ensuring your baby has good oral skills can make speech sounds easier for them. In the early days if your baby can comfortably bring their hands to the centre of their body and to their mouth, this provides a good basis for building skills for communication.

The human voice is what your baby wants to hear. They learn the sounds of language by listening to you and imitating you.

It is important to talk to your baby even if you think they are too young to understand. The more words a child hears in the first year of life the better their chances are of developing speech. Chat and sing to your baby as much as you can. Tell your baby what you are doing.

Babies love gentle playful games. Eye contact at this stage is your baby’s main way of interaction. In the early days, your baby will have little interest in toys, responding best to close contact and social interaction with you or family and friends.

Top tips – When communicating with your baby

  • Make sure your baby can see your face, watch your lips move and observe your facial expressions. You will quickly notice them mimicking your facial changes.
  • Repeat the sounds your baby makes to you. This is fun as they realise that the sounds they are making means something to you.
  • Wait for your baby’s sounds or expressions coming back to you as you would in a conversation.
  • Ensure your baby is able to turn their head in response to sounds and voices around him.
  • Ensure they can reach out towards you and point to people or objects they want (showing signs of early gesture formation).
  • When talking to your baby, use short phrases and sentences.
  • Repeat words frequently, e.g. “which sock today?” “This sock?” “It’s a red sock!” Understanding words makes it easier for them to try to say them.

How to develop language and communication

The more adult words a baby hears in their first three years, the better their language skills will be. Listening to TV or looking at cartoons does not have the same effect. Your baby learns best through hearing your voice. The more you talk to your child the more opportunities your child has to practice making sounds back to you, listening and talking.

Tips to develop your baby’s language and communication skills

  • Show your baby new things every day.
  • Face your baby. Encourage eye contact to let your baby know you are listening and interested.
  • Talk, smile and sing to your baby.
  • Do not force your child to copy sounds or to pay attention to activities. Follow their lead, copy their sounds and be guided by what interests them.
  • Wait and listen for their sounds back in response to you.
  • Talk about what you are doing as you bathe, feed and dress your baby.
  • When out for a walk, talk to your baby. Point out interesting things, which you can both see and hear in the environment.
  • Encourage your baby to make vowel-like sounds, e.g. “ma”, “da”, “ba”.
  • Imitate animal sounds for your baby to copy, e.g. dog says “woof, woof”, cat says “meow”, pig says “oink, oink”, cow says “moo”.
  • Let your baby say the finishing words to each nursery rhyme sentence, e.g. “baa baa black…. “sheep’’.

Assessing your child’s language development

Keep an eye on the way your child is communicating with you.

By one year corrected age, your child should be able to:

  • Babble using increasing tone and sounds that sound like they are having a conversation with you.
  • Understand simple instructions using the right gesture, e.g. “come to daddy”, “clap hands”, and “wave bye- bye”.
  • Hand objects to adults when asked.

By two years corrected age your child should be able to

  • Respond to simple instructions, e.g. “give me the ball”.
  • Have a reasonable single word vocabulary, e.g. “cat”, “ball”, “spoon”, “bed”, “car”, “dog”, “hat”, “duck”, “man”, “book”, “no”.
  • Start to imitate two-word sentences, e.g. “Mummy shop”, “Daddy gone”.
  • Start to use 2-3-word sentences, e.g. “Daddy gone car”.

Make sure you attend all your developmental checks to monitor hearing, vision, speech and motor skills development. If you or your PHN/GP have any concerns about delays in communication or speech development at any stage, make sure you get a referral to see a speech and language Therapist. Early referral and intervention are recommended. Ask your baby’s GP, PHN or Health Centre or Primary Care Centre to help you.