Pointing as communication

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 themself, they will start by pointing to the things they want and needs. And before too long, Baby will start pointing out the things they want you to see, or the thing they want you to tell them about, especially if you’re in the habit of explaining the world around them.

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 they want you to see. The first type of pointing is important, since it marks the point when they have figured out the mechanics of expressing their needs and desires in a better way than the crying they have 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 they wasn’t even trying to do up until then.

The second type of pointing isn’t just showing an interest in the world around them, which they have been doing since birth – it’s actively sharing that interest with you. This sharing of their interests is called “joint attention,” and is as important for Baby’s future ability to communicate with you and the other people in their life as the babbling they have been doing, and the new sounds they have been teaching themself. “Joint attention” is proof that Baby is starting to understand themself and you as individuals, and shows that they want to share their 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 their communication as they grow up, but gestures are especially important right now because Baby is at a point where their cognitive development is a little bit ahead of their language development, and they have more things to say than they have ways to say them.

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