Respond to Your Baby

​​​Babies start to communicate well before they know any words. Our job is to do what comes naturally, recognize what they mean (be a translator!), and respond with our words and attention. Learn how to talk or sign to your baby using methods that encourage language development.

Early Steps

1-6 Months

Babies listen and pay attention to important voices around them. They discover their voices and play with sounds in squeals, grunts, coos and gurgles.

6 to 10 months

Babies discover that they can join sounds together to make "da" or "ga" – soon after, they may babble strings like "dadada" or "gagaga."

9 to 10 months

They start to point or reach. These gestures may mean, "I want that!" or "Look at me!"

Use the Two R's: Recognize and Respond

Families can support their little ones by following the two R's to support early communication:

Step 1: Recognize

Recognize your baby's signals – a facial expression, eye contact, reaching – and ask: "What is my baby trying to say?"

Step 2: Respond

Respond to these signals as communication. Remind yourselves, "Talk about my baby's idea."

  • You let the baby know, "I heard you!" every time you respond – this encourages your baby to communicate more!
  • Your baby realizes that her gesture, or vocalization, or facial expression made you understand. Your baby will try to communicate that way again.
  • You are demonstrating that conversations have two sides, and that both partners get a turn

The important point at the beginning is to be sure that your baby knows that you responded. This will help your baby begin to predict that you will respond and helps makes conversations exciting for both of you. The words will come in time.

Recognizing Signals

Babies communicate in lots of ways. Which ones did you see your child use today? 

  • ​Gestures
  • ​Vocal protests or whines
  • ​Vocal sounds
  • ​Smiling
  • ​Body movements (kicking, getting excited)
  • ​Anticipating (e.g., hears pat-a-cake and waits for game to start)
  • ​Reaching
  • ​Watching
  • ​Scooting
  • ​Pointing
  • ​Cries
  • ​Facial expressions
  • ​Touching
  • ​Making happy sounds

Practice Example #1

Your toddler is reaching for his toy, but an adult is cleaning up and sets the toy on a high shelf. Your toddler begins to cry.

How can you respond?

  1. ​Don't cry.
  2. You are sad.
  3. You wanted the toy.
    Your toy.
  4. A and B​.

Did you pick "d​"? We would too.  A child's feelings are not acknowledged if we say, "Don't cry."  The other responses name his feelings and put words with what he is trying to say. 

Practice Example #2

You offer your child a choice of milk or water (holding up each).

How can you respond?

Which response below would you LEAVE OUT?

  1. Milk or water? Hmmm?
  2. We need to hurry.
  3. You are not sure.
  4. It is hard to choose.

Did you leave out "b​?"  It can be hard for little ones to make up their mind, but we might want to offer more language before trying to move the child along toward a decision.

Now, let's practice with some video examples. 

Practice Example #1

Let's get some practice with the following exercise. Watch the clip and notice what the baby does to communicate. What do you think she is trying to say?


The baby expressed herself by:

  1. Vocalizing
  2. Smiling
  3. Fussing
  4. Pointing at mom
  5. B and C

The correct answer is (e). At the tender age of 8 months, this little girl has figured out lots of ways to express herself. Did you notice that as dad played their "up" game routine, Signe smiled and looked at him.  But notice when she had enough, she fussed a wriggled and her dad immediately changed direction and let her down.  He was very tuned in to her signals of smiling, fussing, and using body language. Watch again and see if you can pick out each of the ways she communicated without words.

Practice Example #2

Let's try another example. See if you can recognize what the baby did to communicate to her mom. She is 8 months of age in this example.


The baby expressed herself by:

a. Turning to look at mom
b. Crying
c. Vocalizing
d. Gesturing

Did you pick "a" - the answer "turning to look at mom?" That's right. The baby uses her gaze direction to take her turn. Notice that mom asks her, "Where's kitty?"  It is evident that Signe is aware that her mom used a familiar word.  She looks up, then smiles and almost seems to look for her favorite kitty. Her mom is giving her an opportunity to show beginnings of understanding of a familiar word.  As parents, we becom​e the detectives…figuring out all the different forms of communication used by children, and responding with our words and supportive actions.