How to Teach Babies to Request “Open”

Try this at home Tuesday: Teach baby open and close!

Open and close are powerful words for babies. They are words that babies often need to communicate, so it’s important that we teach them how to do so. You must first start by teaching the concept of open and close. You do this by showing and telling them. Babies develop language by understanding concepts, so we must expose them to various concepts and talk them through the steps and items involved to help them learn. Once they have a good understanding of the concept (receptive language), then they can begin practicing their expressive language skills by naming (door, box, snack, drink) and verbalizing actions (open/close) involved in the activity.

Babies typically begin to follow simple verbal directions paired with gestures around eight to ten months of age. This is a great time to begin working on opening and closing things. Have babies watch and help with opening and closing the mailbox, washer/dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, cabinets, toys, books, doors and lids. Be sure to say “open” and “close” each time you do so. Babies are going to open and close things regardless, so you might as well throw in some verbal directions for their little brains to process and practice doing. Doing so will reduce communication breakdowns. For example, instead of just closing a door that your baby is so proud of opening, have them close it. This way they practice control and independence and are less likely to upset. Then redirect them to something else. Another example, my son beelines for the refrigerator and dishwasher doors every time I open them. He loves pulling bottles off of the shelves and dishes out. Instead of saying “no” and moving him away, I have him close the door. This took lots of modeling and me holding his hands and making him do it to establish the carry over that I’m now seeing. He now consistently follows the direction to close the doors and moves on about his business. Have a look at this short video to see what I mean.

Now that my son has a good understanding of the concept open/close, we are working on expressing what he wants using gestures, signs and words. In order to make this happen, you want to put babies in situations where they need to request to have something opened. This is easy because babies always want something opened. They don’t have any trouble closing things, but opening is where you can really work with your baby on using expressive language to request what they want. It’s important to not just open things because you know what your baby wants. It’s very important to wait for your baby to elicit some type of communication other than crying/whining to suggest that they want something opened. This is where sign language and gestures work great, especially if your baby is not talking yet. The sign for “open” is fairly easy to make. You just move your hands from midline out to the

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For instance, my son loves to go outside and will wait at the door. I say to him, “what do you want?” and wait. When I get nothing in return I say, “you want mommy to open (while doing the sign), you need to tell me open.” He now does a modified sign for “open” as seen in the video below. This wasn’t always the case. In order to teach him I would take his hands and do the sign with him then open the door. Now that he has the sign, I am focusing on verbal production. The key is to do what your baby is asking as soon as they give you some form of communication other than crying. This rewards and teaches how communication works. So when my son gestures or signs “open” I do it immediately while saying, “open, mommy open.” Now that he has learned to communicate “open,” I’m seeing carry over in different environments AND. I. LOVE. IT! This is so much better than crying/whining, which he still does don’t get me wrong. But when he does, I look at him and say “what do you want?” and this prompts him to think about another mode of communication.

 Having babies assist with opening and closing doors, lids, curtains, toys, etc works on vocabulary, following simple directions, the concept open and close/shut, problem solving, memory, attention and expressive language. It may take a little extra time and patience, but it’s good to engage babies in these activities. Make sure to do it in a playful, relaxed environment! 

Open and close are powerful words in a baby’s world. They LOVE opening and closing things, so it’s important to maximize on this interest by incorporating language. I like to begin work with these words early on to help develop communication skills and reduce communication breakdowns. I challenge you to take a few extra minutes and allow babies to open and close things in their environments. Let me know how it goes! Check out more speech and language tips for babies here.


A good example of how teaching baby to open/close can come back and bite you in the a**! Catch-22!

Peace & Love,


Respect, kindness and love begin with babies…we must show them the way!

4 thoughts on “How to Teach Babies to Request “Open”

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