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Way before kids learn to talk, they learn about nonverbal communication. Babies pick up on how our bodies help us communicate through everything from being held to a calming hand placed on their back. A recent study found that babies who use eye contact to communicate with their caregivers showed increased language development. The 1-year-olds who used vocalizations while looking at their caregivers' faces showed increased vocabulary at age 2 compared to peers who did not engage in eye contact as often.
As a parent, you can use these findings as a reason to pay extra attention to how you communicate with your child. You may be used to talking to your baby, but take a moment and observe all the ways that she is communicating with you too. When your little one cries, makes faces, looks at you, or turns away from sounds, all of these are ways she is trying to tell you something. Respond to these cues just as you would to someone participating in conversation. Talk to your baby about the information she is conveying by saying things such as, "It seems like that loud noise scared you."
You don't need to respond only to your child's actions, such as crying or pointing. Even noticing where your baby is looking can be helpful. If you see your child staring at a squirrel outside, point to the squirrel and talk about it. Noticing where your child's attention is directed and talking about it will open the lines of communication. By seeing how two people engage in conversation with verbal and nonverbal clues, babies learn important language skills.
As you talk to your baby, make eye contact as often as possible. Just like eye contact shows adults that we are actively listening, it does the same for babies. When you make eye contact, you are also modeling how our eyes can be used as communication tools. Even when you're busy and trying to accomplish many things at once, slowing down to look into your baby's eyes as you talk or as she coos can go a long way toward her language development.
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