Reading Cues With Infants: How It Shapes Their Vocabulary

Did you know that most babies start to say their first words at around 12 to 18 months? You might be wondering why some babies might start talking sooner or later than others. In short, this is often because of how adults interact with infants and how they teach them to communicate. 

Interestingly, your baby’s communication skills don’t necessarily start with words. Long before babies say their first words, they’ll often start trying to communicate with cues. Cues with infants are very important to the development of their vocabulary and you can help improve these skills by understanding common infant cues better. 

If you ignore these cues early on, your baby’s communication skills could slow, and no parent wants that. Throughout this article, we’ll explore how you can recognize different baby cues, what these cues mean, and how they can help develop your child’s vocabulary in the long run. To start off, let’s take a look at how to read cues.

Reading and Recognizing Cues With Infants

If you’re a new parent, it can be hard to tune in to what your baby is trying to tell you since they can’t communicate with words yet. It can be frustrating sometimes trying to tell whether your baby is being fussy or trying to tell you something important. However, after reading this article, you’ll be a master baby communicator. 

The same cues will not be used by all babies either, which can make the concept a bit more difficult. However, after you spend more time with you’re baby, you’ll become more attuned to how your baby acts.

Many parents make the mistake of trying to set a schedule for their baby to make sure there are designated times when the baby should eat or be put to bed. However, if you’re not reading the cues your baby is giving you, this schedule is not going to work very well. Your baby may have his or her own preference for feeding or sleeping time. 

The most common baby cues include ways to communicate that your baby is tired, hungry, wants to play, or needs a break from activities. Your baby will demonstrate these different cues by making various gestures with their hands, stretching, making noises, making eye contact, smiling, and so on. 

It is very important that once you recognize these cues, you should respond to them. This will build trust between you and your baby and will also make your baby realize that he has some influence on the surrounding environment. Responding can also help your baby respond better to emotional distress.  

If your baby is upset and you calm him down, your baby will better understand how to calm down. Let’s explore one of the most common cues you’ll see when communicating with infants: the “I’m hungry” cue. 

Learning To Understand the “I’m Hungry” Cue

We all feel hungry from time to time and your baby will certainly let you know when he’s hungry. You’ll most likely have the easiest time recognizing this cue because of how persistent and obvious it often is. Recognizing this cue is also beneficial to you because it will often appear before your baby starts crying from hunger. 

When hungry, your baby will start making sucking noises and motions with his mouth. Often, he will bite or suck on his fist as well. If you are holding your baby, he may turn towards your breasts in an attempt to feed. 

If you ignore these signs, sooner or later, your baby will start to cry. Not only is a crying baby unpleasant to hear, but a crying fit also makes it more difficult to feed your baby.

While crying, your baby’s tongue will often move towards the top of his mouth. When the tongue is in this position, it can become difficult for milk to flow into your baby’s stomach properly. So, to avoid this, pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues ahead of time and save yourself and your baby the trouble. 

Depending on the age of your baby, you can expect to look for a hunger cue every two to four hours. As you repeatedly respond to hunger cues, your baby will realize that his cues have meaning and can get him fed. This is the perfect foundation for vocabulary development. 

Since your baby will come to know that making a sucking noise will get him fed, you can start incorporating words during this time such as “milk” or “food.” Your baby will soon form an association between these words and feeding time in the same way he formed an association with his cues. 

Reading the “I’m Tired” Cue

As a parent, you likely already know that the next most common thing your baby does besides eating is sleeping. Trying to set a time for bed for your child is hopeless because your baby can become tired at any point in the day or night. If you ignore tired cues in infants, they will become cranky and irritable very quickly and sometimes enter a crying fit which will not benefit anybody. 

Reading tired cues from your baby may be a bit more difficult since these cues are more mild and subtle. More often than not, your baby will be quieter than usual. Your baby will also likely not want to play with toys or be involved in other activities at this point. 

Tired babies may rub their eyes with their fists or start dozing off wherever they might be sitting. The most obvious cue is, of course, yawning. If you notice any mix of these signals, it’s most likely time for your little one to go to bed. 

If you miss your opportunity, expect your baby to become very irritated and hard to soothe. In the same fashion as feeding your baby, when you put your baby to bed, you can say a few words such as “bedtime.” By doing this, whenever your baby hears “bedtime,” he can expect that he will be going to bed soon. 

The “Play With Me” Cue

As your baby ages, he will have more energy to interact and play with you. More often than not, your baby will make various gestures to reach out to you and catch your attention. One of the most obvious signs that your baby wants to play is that he will look more awake and alert than usual and will be moving around quite a lot. 

Your baby will often try to make eye contact with you, babble, and may even pull on your sleeve or hand to get you to interact. There’s no better time to engage with your child when he wants to play because he will be at his most alert. 

While playing with toys or reading books, you can take the opportunity to teach your baby individual words and phrases. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your baby will be able to learn the meanings of certain words. Even if your child is far from being able to speak, knowing the words is still important as they will stick in your child’s head for later when their brain will be more developed. 

Playtime is also a good time for your child to burn off any extra energy he has pent up for the day so he will be able to sleep better later. However, knowing when your baby is done playing is just as important as knowing when he wants to play in the first place. 

The “I Need a Break” Cue

It’s important not to push playtime on your baby if he’s no longer interested. This can often lead to a fussy or irritated baby. However, just because your baby no longer wants to play does not always mean that he wants to go to bed. 

Instead, he might want to do something different from the current activity. The infant body language to look for in this case will include your baby looking away from you or whatever activity you two were engaged in. This means your baby is no longer interested.

If you persist, your baby may start squirming or making noises of protest or complaint. In some cases, your baby may become fussy and start crying. Of course, if you pay attention to your child’s cues, you can avoid any crying fits. 

When your baby is tired of the current activity or toy, allow him to move on to something else. Allowing your child to explore various interests will allow him to develop different skills and to learn about the objects and people in his environment.  

Infant Cues and Vocabulary Development

You now know all about the most common cues with infants, how to recognize them, and how they contribute to the development of your child’s vocabulary. By responding to your baby’s cues, you can be confident that your baby’s development is on the right track.

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This article is designed to provide general advice for parents and guardians, for specific health advice, please consult with your child’s healthcare practitioner.

Tags: Parent's Corner