Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dance Puppet Dance: Baby Communication Development at 6-12 months

Welcome to the second half of your baby's first year. These months mark the beginning of my favorite part of language development, when children begin to realize that they can actually communicate with their world. Is a spectacle to behold, so take a step back, revel with delight, and hold on for the ride as your baby learns to share her inner world with you.

Upon first entering the 6-12 month age range, things won't actually look all that different than they did at 3-6 months. Your little one will continue to engage in turn-taking as the two of you have your important but rather nonsensical "conversations" that are really only exchanges of sounds. Around six months, you'll notice that her speech really starts to explode with different sounds. Your baby will start truly babbling, as she strings long strands of sounds together. It's most likely that your infant's babbling will be made up of b, p, m, w, d and n sounds; these are highly visible sounds that most babies make pretty early on. That's why so many early words--all across the world, in a wide variety of languages--are variations of mama, dada, baba, and papa. Not only are these words very important to babies, they are also generally the easiest to say.

Then, around nine months, the magic really starts to happen. This is when your baby transforms from a passive recipient of language into what we call an intentional communicator. Although she's been "communicating" with you by crying since the day she was born, this has been mainly reflexive in nature-- your baby didn't really know what she was doing when she cried. Right around nine months, though, her internal world undergoes an important transformation as she begins to realize that she has control over the external one. She begins to understand that what she does changes what
you do. My husband and I call this the "dance, puppet, dance" stage, because we adults are so tickled that our children are communicating that we're apt to do whatever they command of us.

You'll see your baby start wielding her new power in a wide variety of ways. Although she won't yet be using words, she'll start to understand that using her voice is an effective way to communicate. She'll use it to protest, to get your attention, to ask for help, and to sing along to songs with you. At the same time, she'll start using gestures. When you ask her if she wants "up," she'll show you she does by reaching up. She'll start to wave good-bye, and she'll show you what she wants by reaching and pointing toward it. All of this leads to a rather astounding ability to intentionally communicate without any words at all. Here are just a couple examples of Baby Girl communicating very effectively, sans words:

Although it can be annoying to have your little one commanding your every move with protests, grunts, and gestures like this, it’s actually a very good sign. We speech therapists really like to see that a child understands that she can communicate with others, even if she isn’t yet using words to do so. At this age, you’ll start seeing your baby do just that.

This is also the time when she might start showing you objects without actually giving them to you and pointing out things that are interesting to her. In doing so, she's establishing what we call joint attention, which occurs when you and your baby are paying attention to the same thing at the same time. Your baby is learning that she can get you to look at an object of interest by showing it to you or pointing at it. This is a skill that develops between 9 and 15 months of age, and it's an important one, because it demonstrates that your emerging toddler is a social little being who really wants to share her interests with others.

Your baby will start to understand a lot more, too. She'll turn toward you when you say her name. She'll understand when you say "no" (although, as any experienced parent will tell you, that will probably mean she'll crawl faster toward the forbidden object). She'll start to find some body parts when you name them, and she'll understand simple routine questions like, "do you want to eat?" It's amazing to see how quickly babies begin to understand what is said to them--their understanding exceeds what they are able to communicate back to you for a very long time.

Your baby will also start showing off her smarts. If an object disappears out of sight, she'll start to look for it rather than assuming it's gone for good. We call this object permanence, and it's an important foundation for helping her develop real words. If you've been singing and playing games with your baby, this is when she'll show you she really has been listening all this time, as she starts doing some of the actions to the games and songs right along with you. She'll also start using objects a bit more appropriately, rather than just mouthing them. For example, she might use a spoon to stir a cup or push a toy car; this shows us she is beginning to remember that specific objects are used in specific ways.

And, importantly, your baby will begin imitating you in earnest. Around seven months, she'll imitate your action if it's one she's already got mastered. Clapping is a good example of this. Many babies discover "clapping" all on their own, before they even see an adult do it. Once they've done this action on their own, they're more likely to imitate an adult clapping and, eventually, they'll begin clapping when they know they've done something exciting. Around one year, though, imitation skills really take off. Babies start to imitate adult actions they've never done before on their own. You'll see your baby imitate sounds, facial expressions, coughs, and lots of new motor actions. Imitation is one of the biggest tools babies have for learning language, so it's terribly exciting to see it emerge.

Finally, words will start to take shape. Older infants will start to use sounds like "ooooh!" and "uh-oh" to mean "I like that!" or "Something bad happened!" Many kids will develop what we call
protowords, which are words that they say over and over again to mean the same thing, but that aren't actually related to an adult word. For the longest time, Baby Girl said, "dawas," which always meant, "I want that thing over there, please." Why "dawas"? I have no idea...and that's what makes it a protoword. Around 10-13 months, the long-anticipated and much-recorded event will occur: your baby will use her first real word. Moms, of course, vie to get their name said first and dads will do the same. Indeed, your baby's first word is most likely to be a noun that represents something that is both very familiar and much enjoyed by her. But if it's not you that she names first, you'll still be jumping for joy that your baby has taken a huge jump into the wide world of language.

Learn More...
On What To Expect:


  1. We went to a special library time designed for babies. They did many of these activities. It was a amazing!

  2. Great post! It calls to em especially since my son is 9 months old now and does many of the things you've pointed out.