Hesperian Health Guides

Communicating before your child can talk


The activities below are divided into 2 sections:

  • activities to use before your baby can talk, and
  • more activities to use when your child begins talking.

If your child can see a little, be sure to adapt these activities to make the best use of his remaining sight.

Taking turns

Taking turns with your baby means (1) sending him a message or responding to messages he is sending you, and (2) trying to keep the give-and-take between you going.

Every time you take turns with your baby something different might happen. But here are some general guidelines that may help make taking turns work well:

  1. To begin, let your baby know you are near and ready to play.
  2. Let your baby take his turn first, so that he gives you a clue about what he wants to do. But if you have to wait a long time, go ahead and begin yourself.
  3. a man speaking while he tickles a baby on his lap.
    Do you want to play more Juan?
  4. When your baby responds in any way, consider that as his turn and respond to it. This way he knows you noticed his action and liked it. If he does not respond, try helping him with a ‘prompt,’ like a touch on his arm, to remind him it is his turn. It may also help to use activities that involve give-and-take, like rolling a ball back and forth between you.
  5. When you take a turn, try to take the same amount of time as your baby took for his turn.
  6. Allow your baby to stop whenever he wants. Most games of taking turns last only a minute or two because babies can pay attention only for a short time.

To encourage your baby to take turns

Taking turns helps your baby learn that he can affect what others do by sending messages to them. This makes him more interested in the world and more eager to communicate. Taking turns also helps him learn important communication skills, like how to begin a ‘conversation,’ how to pay attention, and how to respond to his family’s messages.

a woman speaking to a baby sitting in a basket.
Rene, I’m here. Do you want to play?
the woman speaking as the baby touches her nose.
Good for you, Rene, you found your auntie’s nose!
1. Marie lets her nephew
Rene know she is near and
ready to play by talking
softly with him and then
gently touching his arm.
2. When Rene responds to
her touch by reaching out
to explore her face, she
responds to let him know
he has done something
the woman speaking as she touches the baby's nose.
You have a nose just like Aunt Marie.
HCWB Ch6 Page 49-4.png
3. Marie waits for Rene to
finish and then takes
her turn, touching his
nose with her finger.
4. She then waits for him to
respond, and so on.