Kids Health Info

Parent information about newborn babies - interacting

  • There are many cues your baby will give you to express how they are feeling, what they are thinking or what they may need. By paying attention and responding, we teach babies positive ways of learning from us.

    Reading your baby's cues

    Babies "talk" to their families all the time. Sometimes they use their voice, but they can also use their face and their arms and legs.

    Baby's voice

    We know babies cry when they're unhappy or in pain.  But we also want to encourage them to tell us when they're happy, ready to play or finished playing.  Babies can use big sounds, but they also use lots of little sounds that sound a little bit like they're coming from the back of their throat.  They might make some shapes with their mouth, but no sound at all.  They're still trying to "tell" you things, so show them you're listening by answering them with your voice or interested facial expressions.

    Baby's face

    Long before the sounds come and smiling begins, babies change their facial expressions to tell you what they're thinking.

    • Very raised eyebrows mean "I'm not sure". 
    • Knitted eyebrows (pushed in down low) mean "I'm cross". 
    • If your baby looks away from you, they might be saying: "Just give me a moment to rest", so just give them a little time and often they'll turn back ready for more play. 
    • Sometimes babies will just stop what they're doing and stare at you or at a toy. This means they're thinking about what you did or whether they like the toy. So do it again, to give them another chance to decide.  

    Movement

    Movement is talking too.

    • Newborn babies might also move their arms and legs to tell you "That's great!", "I'm listening to you", or "Look at me!". 
    • Happy babies use smooth, relaxed movements
    • Babies who are getting upset use more jerky movements. Watch for changes because they can be your first clue that your baby has had enough interaction for now.

    By watching and responding to these little cues, your baby learns that you are listening to them and doesn't have to use bigger cues, such as crying, to get your attention. Then your baby can save some important energy for growing.

    What you can do

    When you think your baby might be ready for playing and talking (called interaction), ask your baby a question (e.g. "Have you got a story for me today?") and wait for some kind of answer. Your baby's answer might take a little while so be patient.

    Babies enjoy patterns:

    • Nursery rhymes and songs are predictable and encourage your baby to pay attention. 
    • Reading can combine watching and listening.
    • Making up nonsense sounds and games brings lots of fun and energy. 
    • You can also use your voice to soothe your baby. Babies quickly learn that little chants like "sh-sh-sh" match up with how you pat or rock or rub their temple (or whatever they like).

    When your baby "talks" to you, watch their facial expression, how they move and listen to their voice. If any of these change, your baby might be getting tired. Just stop what you're doing and provide some comforting sounds or touch. Your baby might recover and be ready to interact again. If your baby does not recover, then he or she is telling you they need to rest.  You should use your calm voice and patting or gentle touching to help them settle down to sleep or to have some quiet time.     

    Rhymes and songs

    Start with any favourite song that pops into your head. It will be good enough.

    Then try these songs (you can hum them if you'd prefer):

    • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star;
    • Rock A-Bye Baby;
    • Ring-a-ring o' Rosie;
    • Old MacDonald Had a Farm;
    • There Were Ten in the Bed;
    • She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain;
    • Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree;
    • Skip to my Lou;
    • You are my Sunshine;
    • This Old Man.

    Try these rhymes:

    • Round and Round the Garden;
    • This Little Piggy Went to Market;
    • Humpty Dumpty.

    This information is suitable for parents in the community or in hospital with full-term newborn babies.

    Developed by Helen Shoemark, RCH Music Therapy Team. First published: December 2010.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.