Help Your Baby Learn to Gesture

by Nicole DeCoursy Mead

Help Your Baby Learn to Gesture

3 ways to encourage your baby to talk with her hands

Your baby may not be talking yet, but rest assured, she’s got plenty to communicate. Every time she waves bye-bye or stretches her arms because she wants out of the high chair, she’s sending you a message. 

Babies typically start gesturing at 9 to 12 months, says Penny Glass, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. If your child has begun using her hands to express herself, she’s well on her way to using words — in fact, the more gestures babies make at 14 months of age, the bigger their vocabularies are at age 4½, according to a recent study. You can encourage this hand-y skill by:

Getting her to gaze
The better your baby can visually track things, the sooner she’ll notice common gestures and start imitating them. Make eye contact with her throughout the day, and also look at various objects and see if her eyes follow yours.

Being animated
While it’s important that she sees you point and wave, your baby is much more likely to grasp the meaning of gestures (and try them herself) if you make faces along with them. So smile when you wave hello, change expressions as you play peekaboo, and put on a happy face as you point out the neighbor’s dog.

Narrating what you’re doing
Say “Do you want more?” when she points at the cereal box or “Should Daddy pick you up?” when she reaches up toward him. Before you know it, she’ll be waving her chubby little hand as soon as Grandma says “hello.”