Pointing may not be polite, but it is useful, especially for babies who know what they want, but haven’t quite figured out the language to say so. Before Baby is ready to start spending paragraphs explaining themselves, he will start by pointing to the things he wants and needs. And before too long, Baby will start pointing out the things he wants you to see, or the thing he wants you to tell him about, especially if you’re in the habit of explaining the world around him.
Pointing can start any time from when Baby is 9 to 18 months old, though it’s generally around a year old. It often happens at the point in development when Baby knows a few words, but isn’t quite ready to start using sentences to create a compound meaning yet. Babies whose parents or caregivers frequently point at and name things in their world are more likely to start pointing sooner, as they’ve got a strong model for it.
There are two types of pointing that will be involved in Baby’s cognitive development: pointing out needs, and pointing out things he wants you to see. The first type of pointing is important, since it marks the point when he has figured out the mechanics of expressing his needs and desires in a better way than the crying he has used up until then. The second type though is even more of a giant leap forward, as it does something for Baby’s communication that he wasn’t even trying to do up until then.
The second type of pointing isn’t just showing an interest in the world around him, which he has been doing since birth – it’s actively sharing that interest with you. This sharing of his interests is called “joint attention,” and is as important for Baby’s future ability to communicate with you and the other people in his life as the babbling he has been doing, and the new sounds he has been teaching themselves. “Joint attention” is proof that Baby is starting to understand themselves and you as individuals, and shows that he wants to share his view of the world with you.
Baby’s communication through pointing happens for the same reason that baby sign language, even for hearing children, has gained so much traction with parents of pre-verbal babies. Babies point, and learn to sign, because their brains and their bodies are both growing at an astonishing rate, and every once in a while, they’ll reach a point in their development when the two won’t match up. Pointing and sign language can be important steps in Baby’s language development, and body language is something that’s going to be important in his communication as he grows up, but gestures are especially important right now because Baby is at a point where his cognitive development is a little bit ahead of his language development, and he has more things to say than he has ways to say them.