Improving Our Interactions with Infants Through Communication
As educators many of us are aware of the importance of language development in the early years. Yet communicating with infants provides them with much more than just language development; it is a huge part of their social and emotional development as well. Effective communication with babies helps you to create a caring bond with them, ensuring they feel more happy, confident and respected when in your care. My first priority when working with children is not about them reaching each developmental milestone, but rather the development of a healthy and happy relationship between the two of us.
Many infants in daycare and nursery will spend a large amount of time in your care. Your setting is their “home from home.” In order for them to learn and develop to the best of their ability, they need to feel safe, secure, and respected. It is only when this happens that a baby will feel comfortable to explore, engage and learn in a nursery or daycare setting.
So what are some ways we can communicate with babies in order to improve our relationships with them? How can we, as educators, create a safe and respectful environment for the infants in our care?
Communicating to Connect not to Teach
- Eye contact. Eye contact during communication with babies is very important. Babies will be more engaged and better focused when you are facing them and making eye contact. They will understand that the words you are saying are directed at them. They will be able to watch your mouth move as you talk, helping them learn how to form words and sounds. The infant you are communicating with will know that you are focused on them, and only them, helping them feel important and cared for.
- Time to respond. When talking or communicating with an infant it is important to pause and give them a chance to respond to you. When you finish a sentence, stop and count to 10 in your head. This gives baby a chance to process what you have just said and formulate a response. Remember a response from baby may not be a word or sound, it could be a gesture or facial expression. Watch baby closely to see how they are trying to communicate with you. Once baby has responded, it is now your turn to continue on the interaction, based on what they have communicated. This back and forth is teaching baby that their voice is being heard and respected, it is helping them feel cared for a loved, and it is helping them develop an understanding of conversation (you talk, I listen, I talk, you listen). When we take the time to truly listen to what an infant is communicating we are showing them that their thoughts and ideas are important.
- Follow the infants lead. Observe the baby in your care, what are they showing an interest in? Communicate with baby about what THEY are interested in, not about what YOU want them to gain from the experience. For example, an infant may be trying to put stacking rings onto a peg, you see an opportunity to talk about size and how the big one goes on the bottom. Yet when you observe baby you can see that they are really focused on getting the hole to fit onto the peg. So instead of talking about the size of the different rings, you can talk about the hole and the peg.
When we communicate with infants about their interests, they will be more engaged and interested. Additionally, they will feel more comfortable exploring their environment, knowing there is an adult ready to support their choices and ideas.
- Tone of voice. Getting frustrated can happen, especially when you are in a room with multiple crying babies! However it is very important to be aware of the tone you are using, and the words, when speaking to infants. Babies are naturally curious and will try to climb onto things, into things, pull another child’s hair, bite, nibble, etc. etc.! They are not being “bad,” they are learning and exploring. When we yell at them or speak in a harsh, unhappy tone, the baby can become frightened. They will feel uneasy exploring and may avoid certain interactions and social situations. They may begin to feel uncomfortable around you and will not seek you out for comfort when they need it.
Instead of yelling or speaking to a baby in a harsh tone, physically go over to the child and show them what you would like them to do differently, using a calm tone. For example, if a child is trying to climb onto a table, instead of yelling across the room, “stop, get down!” try going over to the child, and saying calmly, while helping them lower to the ground “our feet stay on the floor.” Then you may want to redirect them to a different climbing activity that is safe. When we change our tone of voice and avoid yelling, the babies in our care will feel more confident and comfortable exploring, and they will learn what is safe to do and what is not safe to do. They will build a trusting and respectful relationship with you, not a relationship based around fear and uncertainty.
- Observation. Before responding to an infants cries, whines or noises, take a moment to observe. You may hear a baby crying or whining and go to pick them up…STOP! Take a minute to watch the baby, what are they trying to tell you? Are they crying and reaching for a toy? Are they whining and pointing at another child? Once you have observed and taken the time to understand what baby is communicating, then you can respond appropriately. When we take the time to learn what baby is trying to communicate, we respond more appropriately, helping build a trusting and respectful relationship. Baby learns that they can trust you to truly listen and respond. They will learn that when they have a problem or need help they can count on you to respond appropriately.
There are many ways to incorporate effective and respectful communication into your daily work with infants. I hope this post has given you some helpful tips and provided you with some thought provoking information. I will go into more detail on how to communicate effectively with infants during care tasks in an upcoming post. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to share some of your own thoughts, ideas and information on this topic, please leave a comment below or get in touch!
It takes a village to raise a child and we are all in this together ♥