PARENTING

Babies (1 month - 12 months): Communication

By DR KEN MYERS

Posted  February 22 2016 | 0 Shares

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Babies (1 month – 12 months): Communication

Vocalisation

A baby’s ability to communicate evolves dramatically through the first year of life. At a basic level, the baby finds progressively more advanced ways to illustrate its wants and needs. Initially, this is done mainly through fairly non-specific crying, which may be used to express any of hunger, discomfort, fear, surprise, cold or warmth. There are anecdotal reports of parents who can differentiate distinct cries of babies being associated with a specific need or want (e.g. a hunger cry versus a frightened cry). This is difficult to prove conclusively in scientific setting; however it would not be surprising if babies were capable of nuanced crying as a very early form of communication.

By four months of age, babies have developed a more complex repertoire of vocalizations. These include laughing, crying, cooing, growling and squealing. Not surprisingly, crying appears to be used exclusively to express negative emotion while laughing only represents positive emotion. Interestingly, squealing and growling may reflect either positive or negative emotion, depending on the situation. This is an early form of what communication experts term “functional flexibility” – the use of the same vocalization to express different emotions (Oller et al., 2013).

Around six months, the baby’s vocalizations typically evolve to what is called “babbling.” The baby now has the ability to articulate consonants and will happily chatter to themselves, enjoying this new skill. This usually takes the form of “bah bah bah bah bah bah bah …” or other variations on the theme.

Parents should be aware of the importance of repetition in the development of an infant’s communication. Babies are constantly taking in information and attempting to reproduce the sounds they hear. Consequently, talking to them and encouraging them to make sounds will help their language development. Repetition becomes especially exciting once they are able to make consonant sounds, and can thus begin to imitate words. While this typically occurs around 7-8 months, the baby’s first word with meaning does not usually happen until around 12 months.

Gestural Communication

Though we have focused on communication through vocalization to this point, we must remember that babies are concurrently developing their ability to communicate using gestures. The same parts of the brain are likely involved in both vocal and gestural communication, as the two often appear to develop together. For example, rhythmic vocalization (i.e. babbling) develops at the time as the ability to rhythmically bang on objects (Capone and McGregor, 2004).

Gestural communication involving showing, pointing and giving, typically begins to develop around 10 months of age. These gestures are thought to be primarily a method of gaining attention from adults (Capone and McGregor, 2004). Around the same time, infants develop other gestures used to express needs or wants. These may include pulling at an empty hand to obtain something, making grasping motions and placing a caregiver’s hand on an object as a request to put it into motion (Capone and McGregor, 2004). As with vocalization, caregivers should encourage and respond to attempts at gestural communication. This encouragement will likely help the baby develop more and more complex non-verbal communication skills.

Reviewed by DR KEN MYERS 22 February 2016 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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Babies (1 month – 12 months): Communication

PARENTING

Babies (1 month – 12 months): Communication

Vocalisation

A baby’s ability to communicate evolves dramatically through the first year of life. At a basic level, the baby finds progressively more advanced ways to illustrate its wants and needs. Initially, this is done mainly through fairly non-specific crying, which may be used to express any of hunger, discomfort, fear, surprise, cold or warmth. There are anecdotal reports of parents who can differentiate distinct cries of babies being associated with a specific need or want (e.g. a hunger cry versus a frightened cry). This is difficult to prove conclusively in scientific setting; however it would not be surprising if babies were capable of nuanced crying as a very early form of communication.

By four months of age, babies have developed a more complex repertoire of vocalizations. These include laughing, crying, cooing, growling and squealing. Not surprisingly, crying appears to be used exclusively to express negative emotion while laughing only represents positive emotion. Interestingly, squealing and growling may reflect either positive or negative emotion, depending on the situation. This is an early form of what communication experts term “functional flexibility” – the use of the same vocalization to express different emotions (Oller et al., 2013).

Around six months, the baby’s vocalizations typically evolve to what is called “babbling.” The baby now has the ability to articulate consonants and will happily chatter to themselves, enjoying this new skill. This usually takes the form of “bah bah bah bah bah bah bah …” or other variations on the theme.

Parents should be aware of the importance of repetition in the development of an infant’s communication. Babies are constantly taking in information and attempting to reproduce the sounds they hear. Consequently, talking to them and encouraging them to make sounds will help their language development. Repetition becomes especially exciting once they are able to make consonant sounds, and can thus begin to imitate words. While this typically occurs around 7-8 months, the baby’s first word with meaning does not usually happen until around 12 months.

Gestural Communication

Though we have focused on communication through vocalization to this point, we must remember that babies are concurrently developing their ability to communicate using gestures. The same parts of the brain are likely involved in both vocal and gestural communication, as the two often appear to develop together. For example, rhythmic vocalization (i.e. babbling) develops at the time as the ability to rhythmically bang on objects (Capone and McGregor, 2004).

Gestural communication involving showing, pointing and giving, typically begins to develop around 10 months of age. These gestures are thought to be primarily a method of gaining attention from adults (Capone and McGregor, 2004). Around the same time, infants develop other gestures used to express needs or wants. These may include pulling at an empty hand to obtain something, making grasping motions and placing a caregiver’s hand on an object as a request to put it into motion (Capone and McGregor, 2004). As with vocalization, caregivers should encourage and respond to attempts at gestural communication. This encouragement will likely help the baby develop more and more complex non-verbal communication skills.

Reviewed by Lisa Kelly 22 February 2016
references
  • current version

  • PEER REVIEWER

  • Doc id

  • next review

This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

make a comment

0 comments

more articles by DR KEN MYERS

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latest articles

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MEET THE EXPERTS

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