Your little one has just turned 6 months. Everyday she’s getting a little longer, a little stronger and you find yourself gazing at her all the time – she’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen and, somehow, she knows it. She lies there, watching you watch her, senses alive in the pursuit of understanding; absorbing and interpreting new information constantly. One day she will have a conversation with you, laugh, run and jump, and no longer spit up on you. One day.
At such a young age, it might feel like your baby hits a new developmental milestone every day. Within the first 6 months, normal language development is unique and the fundamental groundwork for a life of able communication is bring laid.
Language milestones can be broken up into three categories: receptive language, expressive language and social skills. Below are some handy examples of normal communication development in a 6-month-old. You might recognise some (if not all) of these progressions in the way your baby communicates with you.
Receptive language refers to the way one receives and understands information – interpreting words, sentences and the meanings behind them into useful information. During infancy, you will see the very beginnings of this in the way your little one starts to respond to the changes in tone of your voice and in her interest in environmental sounds.
On the productive end of the scale, we have expressive language: the ability to express what one means into understandable gestures, sounds, words and sentences. For children aged 6 months and under, making simple noises, or babbling, to get attention is a prime example of expressive language. You have already learned that she has a different cry to express different needs; her “hungry” cry is very different to her “tired” cry.
Engagement and interaction are signs of the development of social skills. You may be able to think of moments when you realised that she was talking back at you in her own way or when she started smiling, gums and all, at family members. These are both great indicators that your baby is learning to socialise.
Fast forward another 6 months and simple arithmetic would say that you have a 1-year-old on your hands. She has changed so much! You can tell, not only by the fact that she moves like lightning and is now louder than life, but by the increased necessity of locks on cupboards and pop-up gates in your home. Her language milestones are progressing nicely too.
She listens when spoken to, recognises her own name and the names of familiar people and objects (i.e. Mum, Dad, ball, book, bottle), and attempts to make the familiar sounds of things like cars and animals. Her receptive language development allows her to understand words like “bye-bye”, “up” and “no”.
Expressive language is in check when she starts to say sounds like “da da, no no, go go” or tries to copy sounds that you make. One of the wonderful indicators of healthy language development is that great laugh!
You may recognise her social skills in play as she engages in simple turn-taking when rolling a ball or brings a toy to you, inviting you into her game. You notice intentionality in the way she responds to basic questions like “Where is the ball?”, uses gestures and maintains eye contact.
You watch her change before your eyes and, when you stop to think about it, she completely blows you away. For someone so dependent, she seems to have a real handle on this whole growing thing – which begs the question, “How do I support her? How can I promote excellent communication skills that will help her say what she means with confidence?” Please find below some practical tips for infants from 6 months to consider:
- Talk, talk, talk to your child! They say that immersion is the best way to learn a new language – so immerse her! Surround her with opportunities to encounter language in all forms. Read to her, sing simple melodies and rhymes, play games with simple dialogue.
- Make sure she can see you talking to her. Doing this gives her a chance to watch the way your face moves to produce particular sounds. Looking at people is a simple and powerful way that babies engage with intentionality. Start to play ‘funny mouth’ games where you can show her how you activate facial muscles to create a funny mouth. Push your lips forward, seal them shut, open your mouth wide, blow out your cheeks, poke your tongue out. These actions inspire the beginnings of intentional facial movement and you may even get a laugh out of it too! (Let’s be honest, you’ve been unable to resist doing this one since she arrived – the approval of her smile or laugh is priceless! Now you have an explanation for any eye-rolling onlookers.)
- Label everything. No, I’m not asking you to grab the ol’ Brother handheld labeller out of the stationery drawer. If your child notices the sound of a car in the driveway, imitate the sound followed by the simplest explanation and reinforcement, i.e. “Daddy’s/Mummy’s car …. mmmmm (or, brrrrrrrummm) …. car …. Daddy/ Mummy home soon!”
- Use PLENTY of repetition! It may feel a bit painful but the more you repeat phrases, sounds and words in their correct context, the sooner she will grasp the meaning and try them out for herself.
- Take turns. Games like rolling a ball, shaking a rattle, making funny noises and putting toys into a basket require turn taking. These games model acceptable social interactions when it comes to play. Putting language to the activity adds a new dimension to learning where your child is making connections between words and actions. Use phrases like, “My turn …. Your turn” and “up… Up… UP!”
- Play with flavour. If you are breastfeeding, try eating a variety of foods. Incredibly, the taste of what you ingest finds its way into your milk – this gives your baby the chance to experience new flavours even before she starts on solids. When it comes time to begin solids, aim for variety. Pay special attention to coughing on swallowing – this is, at the very least, a self-protective reflex. The movement involved in eating solids trains the mouth and strengthens the tongue and surrounding muscles to support speech and articulation, but having solids pass through the throat for the first time is and new and sometimes uncomfortable experience that ALWAYS requires supervision. Coughing while swallowing may be an indicator of serious swallowing difficulties and should be investigated promptly.
If you have any questions or concerns about your infant’s communication development, consider connecting with your local Speech Pathologist or talking to your trusted Paediatrician.
The Speechie Spot, Bald Hills, takes appointments for all concerns regarding child communication development. Chat with Speech Pathologist, Kerry Townley-O’Neill, for further tools, tips, therapy and family programs to teach your child to really own their communication skills!