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Thumbs Up For Gestures!

We all use gestures to communicate. Beginning in infancy we learn that the way we use our bodies has meaning and that we can convey messages to others with or without sounds and words.

Research has found that the number of gestures that a child uses by 12 months of age is a predictor of their language ability at 5 years of age.

Your child should be developing their gestures between 9 and 16 months. As they learn to communicate with gestures, you will also see other social communication milestones such as:

  • the use of eye gaze and facial expressions to share attention and emotion

  • an increase in communication with sounds and gestures

  • a wider variety of actions in play

  • an emerging ability to comprehend the meaning of spoken words.

Children who don’t have these early milestones in place are more likely to have delayed language development.

Will your child have 16 gestures by 16 months of age?

Watching your child’s gestures grow in number and sophistication will give you critical information about your child’s communication development and whether to be concerned if they are not talking yet. While the specific gestures your child is learning may depend on your family and culture, it is crucial that your child has at least 16 gestures by 16 months of age. This is a critical milestone for all children as it prepares the child to launch into a period of rapid word learning from 18 to 21 months.

Some early developing gestures include:

  • Reaching, raising arms

  • Pointing

  • Waving

  • Pointing and tapping

  • Clapping

  • Blowing a kiss

  • Signaling ‘sh’

  • Nodding head

  • Thumbs up

  • Signaling ‘wait’

  • Other symbolic gestures eg. shoulder shrug for ‘I don’t know’, high five, etc.

How to teach your child gestures

Make large, exaggerated gestures. Always add words. Model a gesture and wait for your child to copy it. You can help your child shape their hands and arms to make the gesture (hand-on-hand helping).

Games and activities to encourage more gestures

  • Give your baby a secure mobile or play gym. As her arms and legs hit the hanging toys she will learn that her gestures achieve a result

  • Sing nursery rhymes and songs with actions e.g. Pat-a-cake, The Wheels on the Bus, Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes

  • Use words to encourage gestures e.g. ‘show me…’ (child takes your hand to communicate ‘come with me’, points to show you what he wants)

  • Demonstrate gestures for positive emotions e.g hugging a teddy bear, giving kisses and cuddles to communicate love

  • Teach keyword signs

  • Use gestures to support story-telling.

As speech pathologists, we are uniquely qualified to help coach parents and caregivers on how to encourage their toddler’s use of gestures.

If your child is not using gestures or you are struggling to help them learn to use gestures then we’re here to help. At Newcastle Speech Pathology we love to see parents equipped with the knowledge and skills to help their child become a confident communicator.

Contact us on (02) 49489800 to find out how we can help.


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