When do babies start talking?

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"When do babies talk?" "When do babies start saying Mama?" "When do babies start saying Dada?"


As a pediatric occupational therapist working with infants and toddlers in early intervention, these are some of the most common questions I heard. I am constantly hearing questions about: Is my little on track, where are they developmentally, and most importantly - what can we do to promote early communication? When babies say their first words widely varies, yet as a developmental professional I want to see some foundational elements coming together as early as mere months old. But what are these elements, and how can you promote them at home? 

The best part of my work is empowering parents to understand their child’s development in a broad view versus focusing on specific skills here and there. 

Below are 5 tips to enjoy your little one while they’re working on one of the most highly anticipated developmental milestones - first words and early conversation.



1. Determine what helps your little to be calm and capable of taking in the world. 

An unexpected element to promoting language - figuring out what movements, actions, and types of sensory input set up your little for success. Being calm, or “regulated” in OT language, is a prerequisite for taking in visual and verbal information from all around them that will aide in later language development.

Beginning at birth, we learn how to be calm and regulated and to take an interest in the world

and all its sensations of touch, sound, smell, and taste. - Stanley Greenspan, Great Kids


2. create simple back and forth interaction. 

Surprise! Smiling at your little one and them responding with visual gaze, head turn, facial expression, or babble is an essential aspect of early language. Lots of consistent talking with your infant, or silly face making games and the infant responding in their own way, is an excellent way to set the stage for later communication. Consider yourself the interpreter to their world and talk through what you are doing, where you are going -  them turning to look at what you are talking about can have big impact on their understanding and later talking on their own. 

3. Focus on body and movement.

Guess what?! The early elements of communication start in the body. The more understanding a little has of their body, the more they develop ability to use it to their benefit for valuable communication opportunities such as smiling, head turning, pointing. This builds the capacity to later use intentional gestures of their own. Keep gross motor opportunities readily available - i.e. highly limit time in equipment/devices that will limit their natural movement  (for example rock n' plays, swings, walkers) and instead choose a blanket, the floor, and open safe surfaces with safe climbing options (foam blocks, boxes, side of the couch) to encourage them to explore and move.   

4. slow our roll.

So much of development happens when we can muster the "let go" of life enough to slow our pace.  Littles, even tiny ones, pick up on our energy. Slowing our pace gives them opportunity to develop trust, warmth, and compassion from us which motivates them to engage and initiate interaction with us and all humans beyond us. It also opens space for them to respond. Begin interaction, then await their response - the slightest cues they are listening are big when it comes to early communication. 

5. Read their cues. 

Littles have innate desire to feel like powerful communicators. The more they realize their actions and emotions have an effect on others, the stronger their motivation will be to engage and communicate. Putting something in your mouth so your baby laughs, for example, is a great opportunity to turn into a powerful interaction. "Ahhh you laughed, you want me to do it again!" is a great way to show the babe that they are seen, you are with them, and their actions are powerful in your relationship. 

the more littles realize that their actions have an effect on the environment and on others,

the stronger their motivation will be to engage and communicate. - Thriving littles



If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback. -Brene Brown (2).png
Katie Crosby