Pointing is a Far Cry from Being Understood

Babies generally begin pointing around 6 to 9 months of age, coincidentally the time they are ready to begin the adventure of eating solids. In fact the act of pointing is one of the indicators to look for in determining if your baby is truly ready for solids. Pointing is one of baby’s first forms of communicating. In the beginning it is adorable and parents as well as caregivers ask questions to find out what baby is pointing at to find out their interests. Sometimes baby will also point at things they want. Why pointing isn’t always effective is because of the long arduous process of trying to find out each and every time what it is they want. When they’re pointing it is generally something they can’t get their hands on immediately and they need help to obtain it. Parents get up and go over to the general vicinity of where baby is pointing and begin picking up objects, “is this what you want?” item after item being picked up and put down with your baby growing frustrated in not being understood.

Often pointing and the excitement around pointing diminish after a couple short months because of its inconsistent results and ineffectiveness. Yet, it is clear that babies have the desire to “point out” things they are interested in, just for the pure joy of communicating, not so much because they want the item. This is when I encourage parents to take advantage of pointing for the beauty of baby sign language, the act of just bonding with their child where there is not a need to be met, but rather your child steering two way conversations.

Birds and airplanes are two great examples of having this ripe opportunity available. It is something that has caught your child’s attention, which they merely want to talk about. More often than not this situation arises when you are enjoying time outside, where you have the time and tendency to connect. It is clear the child doesn’t want the bird or airplane, but rather enjoys the interesting sound it makes or the fact that it is in the sky, where not everything else can go…. Amazing that those babies are in fact making these distinctions this young!

Take advantage of this time and talk about the “birds” or “airplanes” flying high above, how interesting the sound is that they make, or their color, or how many there are…. Each situation is unique and provides various possibilities. The key point (no pun intended) is to have a dialogue with your baby, letting them know you take interest in their observation of the world around them. The tip I specifically share in the Sign, Play & Learn classes is this “Every time your baby points, take it to mean – I want to know what that’s called” and provide not just the name of the item, but also the sign. Babies want to be heard and valued, when we provide them the tool for being better understood with signs that associated with their “interests” instead of focusing so much on the common signs of “eat”, “more”, “all done” and “please”, a child will not only respond more readily, and by that I mean learn and demonstrate the sign, but they will feel good about being understood, well responded to and loved!

Published on: October 06, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Joann Woolley

Joann Woolley is a Master Level Instructor in the Signing Time Academy. ASL is her first language (her mother is deaf) and her first sign was MILK. Both her fluency in ASL and understanding of ASL culture provide an insight to the language that opens the eyes of her students.

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