Nonverbal Language

Communicating Wants and Needs

Nonverbal language involves sending and receiving messages, both intentionally and unintentionally, in a variety of ways without the use of words.


Six-month-old Anna is in her highchair having baby biscuits. She starts playing with her food as if wiping the highchair clean with her hands. Dad notices, saying, “Anna, it looks like you are telling me you are all done. Let me take of f your highchair tray, and I will get you out.”


Through Anna’s gesture of playing with her food, she is using nonverbal language to send a message to Dad: “I am done.”

Messages can be sent through a touch or a glance, eye contact, a gesture or facial expression, or a sound made by your baby. Since communication during the first year of your baby’s life tends to be nonverbal, communication is said to be paralinguistic, or before words.

Your baby will express himself literally within seconds of birth by using his voice. As we discussed earlier, the voice, which was used when your infant was crying at birth, demonstrated his ability to communicate with you from that very moment.

By the first month, your baby is able to discriminate between all of the different sounds that people vocalize in every language in the world. She is able to learn just about any language out there, but her ability to produce sounds is extremely limited. This is the prime opportunity to start teaching your infant a second language; you will be amazed to see her use the language once she begins to speak.

The first type of nonverbal language your baby displays is usually reflexive, as when he cried. Other reflexive communication made by your infant includes movements and facial expressions. Non-crying vocalization is heard when your baby coos. At first, cooing will be done by accident, but as your baby develops, it will be done with intentionality. Cooing includes basic speech sounds such as “ooooh” and “eeeeh.”

As you talk with your baby, you give her the opportunity to practice her coos and continue to make sounds from her primary language, the language you speak to her most of the time. Nonverbal language is one of the key aspects of communication and is used by every person from the time they are young.

You will see your child use nonverbal language again when she repeats a verbal message (e.g. pointing in the direction of something) or when your child nods her head to mean “yes.” Recall the famous proverb: “Actions speak louder than words.” This is nonverbal language: action.

Sign Language

Sign language is a visual language that uses a method of facial expression (lips moving) and hand and body movements as a way to communicate.

Your baby can learn sign language at the same time she develops spoken language. When you give your baby access to sign language, you are enhancing the development of her linguistic, cognitive, social, and emotional abilities.

Sign language will give your baby a way to communicate several months earlier than babies who use only vocal communication. This will also help to ease frustration between the ages of nine to 12 months when babies are beginning to know what they want and need but lack the verbal skills to express themselves effectively.

As you teach your baby sign language, keep in mind the word Ma.S.K.S.

- Make it interactive. Have your baby sit on your lap on the floor and hold her arms and hands to make the sign.

- Set practical expectations. Babies will not be able to communicate with sign language until eight months of age.

- Keep the signs simple and relatable for them, such as teaching more, eat, daddy, and mommy.

- Stay patient. Your baby will not do the signs correctly from the beginning; as she matures and with practice she will improve.