A CLASS IN COMMUNICATION
Hearing your child say his first word is one of the greatest milestones for a parent. Being able to speak with him and hold a conversation is the start of a great journey together.
But in reality, you begin communicating with your baby even before birth, through a huge variety of non-verbal methods and without the need for speech.
Your eyes, your actions, your touch and even the songs you play to your little one can tell him everything he needs to know.
Similarly, by learning to read your baby’s body language and cues, you will discover he is quite a chatty little person, long before he has the power of speech!
Babies need to feel understood, and it is vital that their ways of expressing their needs and emotions are recognised.
“Start by looking at his non-verbal cues” says Vivien Sabel (viviensabel.com), psychotherapist and author of baby communication book The Blossom Method (Random House). “By noticing his patterns, you can try to meet his needs before he reaches the crying stage.”
Once you’ve recognised that a protruding tongue means he is hungry, and that smiling eyes indicate contentment, start to mimic his cues and watch how he responds.
“When your baby looks up at you and starts to stick his tongue out, you should follow his lead,” Vivien explains.
“By mirroring it back, you are telling him, ‘Mummy knows what you are saying’.” Vivien says this method will also help you to trust in your own parenting instincts as you get to know your baby.
Even before he was born, your baby could hear the world around him. In fact, around five weeks before birth, his cochlea – the part of the ear that converts sounds into electrical messages for the brain – had become sufficiently developed to perceive the sounds of speech. This means you can establish communication and a bond with him while he is still in the womb.
“I don’t think I ever shut up during pregnancy – I was always talking to my bump, and this carried on after
he arrived,” Vivien says.
“When your baby is very young, he will just make babbling noises. Nevertheless, it’s good to acknowledge what he’s saying, so make the effort to follow his lead and mimic it back.”
She also recommends copying the cries your little one makes. “I don’t mean to try to out-cry him, but crying back to your baby can actually minimise his distress – he will feel his expression has been heard and he
will feel like you’ve understood.”
SEE THE SIGNS
Gestures have always been a key part of human communication and, as your baby’s motor skills develop faster than his speech, he will naturally adopt physical signs like pointing, waving and raising his arms to tell you what he needs.
But if you’d like to try a more direct way of understanding your little one, why not give baby signing a go? Classes based on either British Sign Language or Makaton are available all around the country to teach you and your child how to link an object or action to a gesture and sound.
You’ll both feel like you comprehend each other better, which can ease frustrations. But don’t worry if this isn’t for you. Studies have found that baby signing doesn’t enable your child to talk any more quickly or boost his vocabulary, it simply makes parents more responsive to non-verbal cues.
All adults know the power music can play in expressing emotions, triggering memories and altering our mood – and it’s exactly the same for your child. In fact, research has shown that babies can remember melodies heard in the womb even a month after they were born.
“Playing familiar melodies or singing the same songs you sang while you were pregnant is a great way to soothe and calm your baby,” says Caroline Crabbe, manager of Jo Jingles children’s music, singing and movement classes (jojingles.com).
Try playing different types of music at different stages in the day, such as upbeat melodies in the morning and nursery rhymes at play time, and sing along to them if you can. “He will be able to recall them and will begin to associate certain melodies with certain moods, like relaxation or sleep,” says Caroline. “It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing or you are a bit out of tune, your baby won’t mind one bit!”
If you are not a confident singer, try reading to your baby instead. It doesn’t matter if he can’t understand the words yet – the calming sound of your voice and the focus of your attention is enough. And starting storytime early in your child’s development brings numerous benefits, because it gives him the opportunity to bond with the whole family, as well as firmly establishing a bedtime routine.
Sometimes nothing can beat the power of a good old cuddle, and simply holding your baby can say more than a thousand words. Don’t underestimate how much can be communicated through touch.
“Baby massage is fantastic, and skin-to-skin contact is lovely for both parents,” says Vivien.
“Your baby can hear your heartbeat – a really familiar, and therefore comforting, sound from his time in the womb.” Also, by holding your baby, you can often determine whether he is tense or uncomfortable, too hot, or simply content.
Most of all, when it comes to communicating with your baby, remember to just be yourself and do what comes naturally.
“You don’t need to alter the pitch of your voice if it doesn’t feel right, and this goes for dads, too,” Vivien reveals. “I think babies and children are naturally equipped to notice when you aren’t feeling comfortable and relaxed.”
REAL MUMS SAY… MUMMY COMMUNICATION TIPS
“I’ve used baby signing with my daughter since she was 3 months old. She did her first sign at 5 months and now she uses more than 120. It took all the guess work out of shouts and screams as she could tell me exactly what she wanted,” said Arlene Anderson, 33, from Whiteley, Hants, mum to Abbey, 21 months
“When I have my daughter in a baby carrier, I describe everything I do and leave a gap for her to respond. I also never talk over her if she’s trying to join in the conversation – I know she’s just making noises, but I want to encourage her,” said Jenny Beavan, 24, from Poole, Dorset, mum to Sophie, 5 months