What Are You Pointing At, Baby?
Parents, let's get to the point on pointing.
Babies start communicating long before they say their first words, and parents work hard to understand what they’re “saying.” As babies get close to one year old, they begin communicating through gestures, including pointing.
Pointing is a big milestone for babies. Here’s why:
Pointing is communication. When a baby points at something, they are saying something to you. You might not know what the something is at first. But if you watch, you’ll see that a point could mean, “Look at that!” It could also mean, “I want that!” or “What is that?”
Pointing makes you talk. When your baby points, you are more likely to talk about what they’re pointing at. And when you talk, you help your baby learn language. In fact, the more that 12-month-old children point, the better their language skills are at 24 months of age.
Pointing is a form of joint attention. Joint attention is when a baby and adult are both paying attention to the same thing at the same time. Joint attention helps children learn and build relationships.
Usually the adult will start by pointing, “Look at the doggie!” Your baby might follow your point and look at the dog too. Later, you might see your baby trying to get your attention by pointing, holding up an item, or making sounds. Be sure to respond. Say, “Are you showing me your truck? Wow, I bet that truck can go fast!”
How Can Adults Help?
Point! Point to objects close to your baby and farther away. Describe what you see, name them, and offer them (if safe) for your baby to explore. Over time, your baby learns that pointing gives them important information.
Respond to your baby’s points. When your baby points at something, give them your attention. Encourage them by responding: “You’re pointing at the watermelon slices. Do you want a bite?”
Offer activities that use the pointer finger. Try popping bubbles, pressing buttons on toys, poking holes in play dough, touching textured books, finger-painting, etc.
Notice and respond to the other gestures your baby is using to communicate. There are actually 16 communication gestures that usually occur by age 16 months. Cheer your baby on when you see them. Remember that children develop at different speeds. Most children begin to point between 9 and 14 months of age. If your child isn’t pointing by 18 months, let their health care provider know.
About Baby Steps
This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.