Menu Close

Become a Detective for your Child’s Messages

If you are anxious to hear words, you might miss the communication

The information shared here is based on the expert insights and practical tips presented in Chapter 1 of ‘It Takes Two to Talk’ by Ayala Hanen Pepper and Elaine Weitzman. We highly recommend this book as a valuable resource to complement your child’s therapy sessions and support their communication development. We’d also like to express our sincere appreciation for the authors’ dedication to helping children with communication difficulties and their families.

As parents, your job is to notice and respond to your child’s efforts to communicate. The more you respond to their efforts, the more often they will try and get better at communicating. You might not realize it, but you’ve already started! You’ve been communicating with each other since your child was born, but you may not have known it was the foundation to talking. So let’s take a deeper dive into what to look for.

Become a detective for your child’s messages

By tuning into how and why your child communicates, you’ll see and hear more of the messages they are sending you, even those that are not very obvious. Plus, by noticing their favorite topics, you’ll be on the lookout for their “conversation starters” so you can respond in an encouraging way. Instead of saying “my child isn’t talking” next time your speech therapist visits, you’ll be able to report on all the ways they are sending messages, including:

  • How your child communicates
  • Why they communicate
  • Some of their favorite topics and words only you understand

Track HOW your child communicates

We tend to think of “words” when we think about communication but long before children master a spoken vocabulary, they let us know what they want or need by crying, facial expression, or moving their body. Tuning into how your child communicates will open your eyes to the opportunities for you to continue the conversation. Review the list below and ask yourself, “Does my child do this?” and “In what circumstances?” 

My child communicates with me through…

  • Crying or screaming
  • Smiling
  • Looking at someone or something
  • Wiggling arms and legs
  • Pointing
  • Making a sound
  • Showing me something
  • Leading me by the hand to what they want
  • Making sounds that stand for words
  • Gestures such as bye-bye or raising arms to be picked up

Notice WHY your child communicates

Another way to learn about your child’s communication is to watch for why they communicate. Review the list below and ask yourself, “does my child do this?”and “in what circumstances?”

WHY: My child communicates to…

  • Tell me what they want
  • Tell me what they don’t want
  • Get my attention
  • Ask a question
  • Make comments
  • Let me know what’s on their mind
  • Tell me they’re tired or hungry
  • Greet someone
  • Respond to something interesting, like my voice

Note their favorite topics and words

By paying attention to the people, toys, sights, and sounds your child responds to, you’ll become an expert in their favorite topics. Then when they bring up a favorite topic of conversation by smiling, pointing, or looking, you’ll be ready to engage in a conversation.

Favorite topic examples

  • She turns her head when I call her name.
  • He cries when he’s tired.
  • She reaches for a bottle when she’s hungry.
  • He answers yes or no if I ask if he wants a snack.
  • She imitates the sound when I say peekaboo.
  • He brings me his favorite toy to look at.
  • She smiles at sparkly lights.
  • He takes me by the hand to the back door.
  • She looks at me and wiggles her arms and legs when I change her diaper.
  • He points at the cat and says “eee eee.”
  • He turns his head and frowns when he doesn’t want to eat something.
  • She stops and listens when she hears a plane and then looks at me.
  • He frowns when I say it’s time to put on shoes.
  • She makes a questioning noise to ask “what’s that noise?”

Favorite words

Here’s a handy list of common first words to help you tune into your child’s messages and interests. Do they react to these words? Do they “say” something like eee, goo, or bah-bah.

child’s namemorebanana
favorite toyballcookie
pet’s nametruckcracker
bye byeouchmilk
all gonecoatdog/doggie


Print out the worksheet so you can track how, why, and about what your child communicates. If you keep the printout in a prominent place, it will remind you to track all the ways your child is communicating with you. 

Download the Worksheet

Why this encourages your child to talk

Although it might not be obvious, pointing, crying, wiggling arms and legs, and gestures are all building blocks toward using words. When you respond with interest to your child’s bid for communication you are completing the cycle and showing them the power of communication. It’s like the other half of a high-five!

About this series

The posts in this series match the home programs that our therapists give parents. McLellan Homecare therapists always give parents some homework to help them play an active role in their child’s therapy. While the therapist has only an hour or two per week, you—as their primary caregivers—have dozens of small opportunities every day to help your child develop new skills. But we also know that parents are very busy so we just concentrate on one small task each week. Your child’s therapist will help you apply this information to your particular child’s situation and even interests. Each week the therapist will ask about how it went and help you with suggestions if you are having trouble implementing the program.

Related Posts