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Communicating with your baby

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Communication between babies and their parents begins from birth. Babies want to communicate with you, and want you to communicate with them. This early communication is the starting point for learning language.

When your child is very young, communication happens when you are cuddling, caring for or playing with them. This can involve using words, sounds, gestures, touches, facial expressions, hugs and games – this is the same for deaf and hearing babies.

It is important that you communicate in a way that feels natural and comfortable for you.

Getting started

In the early weeks and months of your baby’s life, you and your baby will make many discoveries about how to communicate. Your baby may:

  • respond to your facial expressions and voice;
  • kick and move their arms to show excitement; and
  • look into your eyes, respond to you and watch intently as your facial expressions change.

These are normal and enjoyable parts of being with your baby. They are also the start of learning to communicate with each other.

During the first seven to nine months of life, babies are learning how to pay attention to those around them and how to take part in social routines with others.

This early development is a main building block for communication. Interaction we think of as ‘baby games’ is essential for getting communication started.

Some tips that can help you to start communicating effectively with your baby are as follows.

  • Pay attention to your baby’s mood. If your baby is unsettled and agitated, you can respond with a sympathetic face and soothing noises. If your baby is happy and giggly, you can encourage this by responding with an animated face, voice or gestures.
  • Encourage the baby to look at your face and pay attention to you. The baby will be interested in looking at you if you use various facial expressions. You can also play games that build anticipation – like peek-a-boo. Vary your voice, facial expressions and gestures to encourage the baby to begin to pay attention to you.
  • Enjoy your baby. Parents of deaf children say that it can sometimes be hard to focus on typical baby routines when they are worrying about the hearing loss. It can really help to talk with other parents and discover the enjoyment they have found as they learn more about having a deaf child. Everyday routines are great ways of really communicating with and sharing experiences with your baby.
Recognising your baby’s communication

All babies start to communicate before they know any words or signs. When your baby is smiling they are saying ‘I like that’ or ‘play that game again’. When your baby is crying they can be saying ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘my nappy needs to be changed’.

From the earliest days, babies pay attention to important voices. They discover their own voices and play with sounds in squeals, grunts, coos and gurgles. Later on, babies discover that they can join sounds together to babble. Babies can also start to join hand movements together to create hand babble. When babies start to point or reach, these gestures may mean ‘I want that’ or ‘look at me’.

You and the other members of your family can help to get communication started by following two simple guidelines – recognise your baby’s attempts to communicate and respond to those attempts. You are likely to be doing this naturally.

You can recognise your baby’s attempts to communicate by being aware of their facial expressions, the way they move their body or the noises they make. These attempts may include:

  • gestures;
  • vocal sounds;
  • body movements (kicking, getting excited);
  • eye gaze;
  • reaching;
  • cries;
  • smiling;
  • anticipating (looking excited when they know a game is going to start);
  • watching;
  • touching;
  • facial expressions; and
  • getting frustrated.

You can respond to these attempts by reacting with appropriate facial expressions, noises, words, gestures or signs.

Take some time to observe your baby – it will help you to communicate well. Some of the questions you can ask yourself are as follows.

  • How is my baby communicating without words?
  • What do I think my baby means?
  • Is my baby asking for attention or help?
  • Does my baby want me to look at what they are looking at?
  • Does my baby want more of something or want me to stop something?
  • Is my baby trying to have fun with me?
  • Do cries have different meanings?
Responding to your baby’s communication

It is important that you respond to your baby’s attempts to communicate. This lets your baby know that you have recognised their attempts to communicate and so can encourage your baby to communicate more. This helps your baby to realise that different ways of communicating are effective, and will encourage them to use the same method again.

Responding to your baby also shows that communication is a two-way process and that it is important to take turns. Babies love to communicate. Because your deaf baby may find it difficult to hear you, you may have to try some different ways to make sure that communication remains effective.

If your baby is learning to use hearing aids, try to stay close, use a pleasant but clear voice, and talk about what your baby has been communicating to you. You should try to stay where the baby is facing, look at what the baby looks at, match the baby’s facial expression, and use simple gestures.

The most important point is to be sure that your baby knows that you have responded.

This will help your baby to begin to predict that you will respond. That makes conversations exciting for both of you. The words, gestures or signs will come in time.

Tiny babies make lots of funny sounds. It is not always clear how to answer. As a parent, you have many ways of showing your baby approval and support. You can:

  • maintain eye contact while you communicate with each other;
  • smile and nod;
  • let your face show the same feeling that your baby is showing;
  • speak or sing a song to them;
  • wait expectantly for more communication; and
  • use simple gestures.

One way to be sure that you and your baby are understanding each other is to hold each other’s attention. If your baby points to something, you point too, before you try to add to the communication.

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Information supplied by The National Deaf Children’s Society. Reproduced with permission.
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