Learning language

As babies learn to eat solid food, their tongues and mouths become better at producing interesting sounds. It’s about this time that they start to babble. They also gurgle, blow raspberries and say simple words like ‘mum-mum’ and ‘dad-dad’. Learning to speak is like learning a song — you get the tune first, then you learn the words.

Even in the womb, the baby is surrounded by the lilting flow of language. As soon as you like, talk and read stories to your child. Tiny babies will watch your face and the movement of the pages; they will start to see the pictures and enjoy hearing you making exaggerated sound effects. Small-sized books with thick pages, bright pictures and short sentences are great, as are board, cotton and plastic bath books. They can take rough treatment, like sucking and spilt cereal.

Each time children get you to understand them, they feel powerful and confident. Watch a grandparent with a littlie who is making noises at them and hear the grandparent pretending to converse. ‘Gaaaruhgggh’.. .’Is that right?’ ‘Dagooooooo’..’Oh, I see!’ The child will continue earnestly with the ‘conversation’ — a flow of bubbling sounds in response to the rewarding feedback.

Sign language

Babies can talk with their bodies. When you hold them, if they squirm and arch their back, making their legs slide down, it’s likely they want to be put down. If they crawl over and grab your leg, look up at you and cry, they want to be picked up.

If they are crying and you hand them a biscuit, and they sling it across the room, that probably wasn’t what they wanted. When you pick them up, and they start to bang on your chest, pull your clothes and bury their head into you, maybe it’s time for a breastfeed.

There is no mistaking the ‘baby smooch’, where they gently lean a smooth forehead into your cheek or give you a ‘kiss’ with an open mouth and wet pulsating tongue on your face. But some of the signs a baby makes are more subtle, using small movements of fingers, hands and feet.

When her big brother crawls behind the couch, seven-month-old Jenny’s feet start to jump up and down. She’s excited. She knows it’s hide-and-seek time. If Jenny is hungry and spots the bottle being carried towards her, she slaps a hand up and down on her side. She’s ready to hoe in. You also know Jenny is hungry when she sticks a finger in the side of her mouth. This means — put it here. She chews her fist, as well.

If you see the baby staring at a toy, watch to see if their hand is opening and closing. If so, try placing the toy in the hand, then watch the response. They will soon let you know they are pleased you understood, by smiling and doing it again.

As babies get to know certain routines, like bathing, they begin to anticipate them. For example, when they see the bath running, they will pull at their clothes, knowing they will be coming off.

Each baby will have their own special signs which you, as the parent, will notice first, because you are most attuned to the fine details of their sounds and actions. Your responses will make the child confident in their first steps to reach out and communicate.