Follow Your Child

​​​Respond to Your Child's Lead to Promote Language Development

Babies are curious.

They are constantly exploring their world. When we try to get their attention to talk about our own ideas, we are taking them away from their interests. They may even be confused if they are thinking about one idea, and getting communication about a different one!

Babies and adults are sometimes interested in different things.

Suppose a mom and her baby are playing with a shape sorter. The mom wants to talk about the color and shape of the block the child is holding, but the child might be fascinated by dropping it and picking it up.​​

  • Mom can shift to talk about her child's interest – this is "following the child's lead."
  • "Down…down. You dropped the block," is closer to the child's thought than "Purple star," or "Put the shape in."

Babies like to communicate about their interests.

  • We don't want to do all of the communicating - that would be like "hogging the ball."
  • Instead, when we see what a little one is paying attention to, and communicate about that, we teach the child to start a conversation with us, and the child learns more about the interesting dropping action with the block.

How Can You Connect With Your Baby?  The Answer is SHARE Attention.

  • One way to be sure that you and your baby are on the same wavelength is to share the same actions and share your attention.
  • If your baby points to something, you point, too, before you try to add to the communication.
  • If your baby looks at something and laughs, you look and laugh.
  • If your baby vocalizes at a teddy bear, you do it, too.
  • Then you can add a language turn.
  • You let your actions say, "Your idea was interesting to both of us."

Practice Examples

Read about these situations and choose a parent response that follows the child's lead.

Practice Example #1

Baby touches wet high chair tray after it is wiped off.


  1. Mother touches the tray, and then says, "You spilled your milk."
  2. Mother touches the tray and then says, "It's wet."
  3. Mother says, "Does it feel wet?"
  4. ​Mother says, "Don't touch."

Feedback: In b, Mother showed the baby that she shared the idea, and then talked directly about feeling the tray.

Practice Example #2

This eight-month-old baby is playing with a toy and she pushes the swing while vocalizing.

How does her mother respond?

  1. Looks at the swing with her daughter (joint attention).
  2. Says, "push it again."
  3. Says, "swinging" (follows her lead).
  4. Both a and c.

Feedback: If you picked "d," you are correct. This mom did a nice job of looking at what her daughter looks at (joint attention) and talking about her baby's interest. It is as simple as that.

Practice Example #3

.. Imagine a little boy who is hard of hearing playing with a playhouse.​

How can his parent respond?

  1. She talks about her own interests.
  2. She repeats what the little boy says and says a little more.
  3. She smiles and shows him she understands.
  4. She looks at what he is looking at.
  5. b, c, and d.

Feedback: Did you pick "e"? Good - that is correct. Mom can use his idea and his words. It is like a volleyball game as they comment back and forth. Nice turn taking happens when an adult follows his lead.​​