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When Gestures Speak Louder Than Words

When your toddler raises her arms and says "up!" it's not just another demand. It's also a major milestone in her efforts to communicate.

Kids this age understand many more words than they can say, so gestures fill the gap, says Jana Iverson, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Raising her arms is how your child makes sure you know exactly what she wants.

She first learned that she could let her fingers do the talking when she was a baby. She'd point at a ball, and you'd say, "You want your ball?" and hand it to her. Now that she's beginning to speak, she realizes that both words and gestures are more effective when they're used together. She comes up with this body language through imitation and trial and error, and by doing what comes naturally (arms up so you'll carry her, for instance).

You can encourage her language skills by completing the phrase she's trying to say. As she gets better at speaking in sentences, she won't need to gesture as much to get her point across.