Kids Health Info

Interacting with your baby

  • Babies are born to be social, and they want to interact with people. 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, you can strengthen the bond between you both, and contribute to your baby's emotional wellbeing. You will also be teaching your baby how to interact with other people.

    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, arms and legs.

    Baby's voice

    Parents already know that their babies cry when they're unhappy or in pain. But your baby can also tell you when they're happy, ready to play or finished playing, and it's important to encourage them to do this.  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. Do the same thing again or show them the toy again, to give them another chance to decide how they feel.

    Baby's movements

    Babies communicate through their movements, 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 they don't have to use bigger cues, such as crying, to get your attention. 

    Ways to interact with your baby

    When you think your baby might be ready for interacting (playing and talking), ask them 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 to come, so be patient.

    There are many ways to interact and play with your baby. For example:

    • Read books and tell stories to your baby – it's never too early to start. Hold the book close to your baby and point out different parts of the pictures.
    • Making up nonsense sounds and games can be lots of fun.
    • Have a 'conversation' by responding when your baby 'tells' you something, then leaving a pause to indicate it's their turn again to say something.
    • Tickle your baby, blow raspberries, play peek-a-boo or count their toes.

    Rhymes and songs

    Babies enjoy patterns, and because nursery rhymes and songs are predictable, they encourage your baby to pay attention.

    You can sing (or hum if you prefer) any favourite song that pops into your head, or one of the classic nursery rhymes (e.g. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Rock A-Bye Baby). Babies often enjoy interactive rhymes such as Round and Round the Garden or This Little Piggy Went to Market.

    Watch for signs of tiredness

    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 they are telling you they need to rest. Use a calm voice and patting or gentle stroking to help them settle down to sleep or to have some quiet time.

    Interacting with your baby in hospital

    Sometimes, newborn babies have a medical condition that requires a lengthy stay in hospital. When this happens, interaction between you and your baby is very important for your baby's physical and psychological recovery. Mental health can deteriorate in babies who have been in hospital for extended periods and who haven't had much contact with their parents.

    Hospital staff are aware of the importance of this interaction. If you are in doubt about what you can or can't do with your baby, ask one of the nurses or doctors.

    Key points to remember

    • Babies are born to be social, and they want to interact with people.
    • Interacting with your baby and responding to their cues will help their emotional wellbeing.
    • Talk to your baby, play with them, tell them rhymes and sing them songs.
    • Give your baby a break when their expression, voice or movements change as they may be getting tired.
    • Interaction between newborn babies and parents is very important if the baby has an extended stay in hospital.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    How do I know if my baby is overstimulated?

    Overstimulation happens when your baby is overwhelmed by more noise, activity and sensations than they can handle. Your baby may show signs of being cranky or tired, cry more, move in a jerky way or clench their fists. If your baby is overstimulated, they need quiet time and a familiar, calm environment.

    How do I know if my baby is responding to me properly? She doesn't seem to interact as much as other babies.

    Babies develop at different rates, so don't worry if your baby doesn't seem to be doing what other people's babies seem to be doing. If you have any concerns, talk to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Music Therapy and Infant Mental Health teams. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed August 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au


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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.