Parenting doesn’t start when your baby is born, it happens the moment you realize you are pregnant. The bond is instant! When we think of communication, we often think of the exchange of words; but what doesn’t get enough credit and is just as effective in conveying our thoughts and feelings is nonverbal communication. In fact, nonverbal communication happens almost instantly out of the womb, and I would even say, in the womb. Yes, that is right, your little growing baby is communicating with you when they are in your belly!
Science has shown that when your little one kicks inside the belly, that this may be linked to developing body awareness as well as exploring surroundings. Your baby’s movement in the belly is also related to sensory experiences happening both in and outside of the womb. These movements are definitely communicating a need and/or feeling. It is so important to not only acknowledge all your little one is communicating when she is outside the womb, but also acknowledging all she is communicating when she is inside the womb.
As a parent, there are ways you can communicate right back to your baby while she is in the belly. Some nonverbal ways to communicate and connect with your baby is touching your belly: babies feel emotions through the sense of touch, play with your baby: respond to your baby’s kicks by touching the spot they kicked and wait for them to respond, practice deep belly breathing exercises: calming and centering yourself helps calm your baby, and lastly, get your body moving: take walks, dance and move that body!
So, what does nonverbal communication look like when your little one is outside the belly?
The earliest signs of communication outside the womb are when your baby is crying, smiling, cooing and giving you eye contact. As your little one grows, these foundational skills for communication become stronger and more consistent. You may be thinking “if my child isn’t using words yet, then they are not communicating,” but I am here to debunk that myth, this is in fact, not true, and not even close!
When you are changing your little one’s diaper and he looks at you and smiles, he is communicating! When your little one’s favorite blanky falls on the floor and she looks around for it, she is communicating! When you walk away and your little one starts to cry, he is communicating! Now, let’s take this a step further, try this: hold up two objects (the best way to start is one highly preferred object and one highly non-preferred item). For example, pick a favorite snack or toy and a plain white sock, hold both up and say: “where is the ball” this works on object identification and increasing vocabulary skills. If you want to take it even further, you can ask “what do you want?” If your little one shifts his eye gaze to the highly preferred item, then there you go, your little one just communicated his wants and needs! I always like to make sure my little ones are understanding what I am asking of them, so I may try this again 2 more times and I will switch the desired object to my other hand just to make sure my little one is actually looking at the object he wants. Pointing or reaching towards the desired objects is also considered communication!
Another tip: I also love to model the name of the object so that my little one is associating the object with a spoken word. So in the example above, if my little one looks at the ball, I might say “yes! You want the BALL” (while overemphasising the target word). We always want to be sure we are acknowledging our little one’s attempts to communicate; this is how we uplift their voice!
So often, these subtle communication messages go unnoticed and our little ones feel unheard and unacknowledged. I get it mom and dad, your day is filled with a long to-do list, and that is why it is so important to remind yourself to find the connection amongst the chaos. Take the time to connect with your little one and make sure you are catching as many communication moments as possible so that you can continue to empower your little one’s voice.
Are you the type of parent that likes a challenge? If you are, try turning off electronics and be distraction free for 10-minutes, just you and your kiddo and count how many times your child communicated with you (verbal and nonverbal)!
Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT
Sholeh Shahinfar is the Founder of Valued Voices, a licensed Speech Language Pathologist, Child Communication Specialist and Certified Oral Motor Therapist. She is passionate about uplifting children’s voices in the world and inspiring self-expression. In her free time, Sholeh embraces a vegan lifestyle, loves going to the ocean, exploring nature with her pup Kobe, practicing yoga, traveling, and spending time with her loved ones.