Try this at home Tuesday: Go “up and down” with a baby!

As babies begin using their first words, they are building an understanding of how expressive communication works to help them get their wants and needs met. When those first words start coming out, I like to place heavy focus on what I call “power words.” “Power words” are words that effectively communicate babies wants and needs. For example, “milk” is a “power word” in my baby’s world. When he signs and says “milk” I know exactly what he is requesting. However, if he signed and said “please” I wouldn’t know what he was trying to tell me. This can result in communication breakdowns and an upset baby.  So, I’m all about focusing on “power words” with my son and the kiddos I work with to improve communication.

Up and down are powerful words for a baby. Understanding what these words mean and then being able to say them opens up lots of opportunities for communicating. You first want to start by teaching babies the concept of up and down. I recommend doing this right from the very beginning by always telling your baby when you are going to pick them up or lay them down BEFORE doing it. I also suggest saying “up, up, up” and “down, down, down” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. you go up and down stairs with babies. You can emphasize these words when swinging your baby by saying, “swing up, swing down.” I integrate these words when playing with blocks and stacking cups by saying “up, up, up” as I stack and then “fall down” when the tower falls. Singing and acting out “The Wheels on The Bus” and exaggerating the kids on the bus going up and down is another good way. Putting the windows up and down in the car gets my little talking. In doing this, you are laying the foundation for those spoken words to come out! It’s been awhile since I’ve shared any of my ridiculously amateur videos and I apologize in advance, but have a look at what I’m trying to put into words!

My baby has a pretty good understanding of up and down, now what?!?!

Now comes the beauty of putting it into words by encouraging your baby to say “up” and “down.” A great time to start working on this is when your baby starts coming to you, getting under your feet, pulling at your pants leg and wanting you to pick them up. In my case, my son was around 13 months old. Instead of picking babies up immediately, you want them to attempt communication with you. They will most likely start by raising their arms up. This is great! They are communicating using gestures and we want to reward this by picking them up. You can help foster use of this gesture by extending your arms out to show baby along with saying “up, you want up” before picking them up. A good time to do this is before picking your baby up out of their crib. Encourage them to communicate “up” by you saying “ready to go up?” and holding your arms out. Give your baby time to gesture or repeat the word after you before picking them up (try this only if your baby wakes up in a good mood, otherwise say “time to go up, up, up”).

Babies do lots of whining. This is how they first learn to communicate and is essentially all they know. We have to show them a better way to communicate. My son still whines occasionally while grabbing at my legs for me to pick him up. I look at him in the eyes and say, “Fisher, what do you want?” Then I pause and wait for him to communicate in some way other than crying before I pick him up. If he doesn’t and most babies won’t initially, then I say “you want up, tell mommy up.” After lots of practice and demonstrations, my son now says “up” consistently. Below is a short video example of me encouraging my son to use his words to tell me what he wants.

The same goes for “down.” When you are holding babies and they start squirming to get down, you want to go for some attempt at communication before letting them down. I hold on to my son and say, “do you want down, tell mommy down.” My son says “down” now, but before he did I would say “you want down, mommy put you down.” You can also ask babies, “do you want up or down?” Giving babies two choices sets them up to communicate with you.

Babies develop language by understanding concepts. We must expose them to various concepts and talk to them about what is happening. Once they have a good understanding of the concept, then they can begin practicing their expressive language skills. In this case, by naming (swing, stairs, blocks) and verbalizing actions (up/down) within the activity. Babies love to go up and down and often need to communicate this act. Teaching them how to communicate it is key, so I like to begin work with these two “power words” early on. I challenge you to go “up and down” with a baby. Let me know how it goes!

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