I miss my baby’s first words but our communication is better than ever

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Like many new moms, I love to mark milestones. Rolling over, crawling, sucking their toes. This last one might not be a landmark, but it sure is cute! But when my son approached one, there was nothing more exciting than the prospect of saying his first words.

My partner was equally enthusiastic. We strained our ears for any similarity. mom or father, cat, car or dog – all the important nouns that we usually think of as consisting of first words.

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He eventually chose to make animal noises before naming loved ones or objects, but he got to them too. When his uncle came to visit the interstate, he asked me what his first word was.

I paused. I didn’t know. His first words were so vague; The line between babbling and deliberate speech has blurred. After babbling to myself I decided to call it “cheese” and we all laughed.

A few months later, I came across a study in the Journal of Child Language. Amalia Skilton, author of the study, It and he is or Here and thereKnown as demonstrative, it is often among children’s first words.

There was a chuckle in the back of my mind; a specific memory external and dat the noises my son made when he started to moo, or even before.

In languages ​​with simple pointing structures such as English, Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin, these words appear with great frequency, often in the first 10 words children learn. Skilton writes: “This early emergence and high frequency of production are typically attributed to the close association of performers with joint attention.”

Pointers are words designed to draw, direct and align your focus. Joint attention is when two people focus on an object or event to interact with each other. It is an integral part of the development of a child’s social and cognitive skills.


As an avid parenting book reader, I’ve come across this term before, but only in the context of gestures like pointing. According to Holger Diessel and Kenny R. Coventry, authors of a study on demonstrators in social interaction, “most research on joint attention has been concerned with nonverbal means of communication, particularly pointing and gazing.”

I was very happy that my son put out his index finger and guided me to the things and places he wanted to see. I commented on each one separately. But none of my readings discussed the linguistic means of initiating joint attention. I missed their first verbal attempt to attract and direct my attention, I still believe they were babbling. Not only that, but I miss his attempts to share his view of the world with me.

Diesel and Coventry acknowledge that building shared attention is no easy feat. It requires the persons involved to view each other as “mental or deliberate agents”.

I know from a very early age that babies are intelligent and conscious beings; His repeated attempts to reach, roll and overturn the potted plant are not accidental. But it is not so easy to remember this and treat them that way day after day, hour after hour. Even now, even though my son parrots everything I say – including swearing – I still talk about him and as if he weren’t there.

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So I stuck to the old assumption that babies don’t do much and put aside any feelings that her chatter is starting to change. He was certainly very recognizable; I was getting carried away. He doesn’t really talk. Not yet.

But now communicating with my son is one of my greatest pleasures as a mother. She is now two years old and every day she says more words, uses longer sentences and encourages me to have bigger conversations. Now with the knowledge I have, I’m pretty sure he made deliberate attempts at speaking before I got to know them.

While I mourn the opportunity to say his first word with confidence, as I did his first smile and first steps, missing it didn’t hurt my son’s language development or our relationship. There were many other words and gestures that I was interested in—sometimes even things I half believed made sense.

Now, his favorite phrases still include pointers: This way, here it is, It, sit here! And it still says he is asking what things are and adding each new answer to their vocabulary.

May not be as exciting as a show cat or dog Saying what your child’s first word is when asked, but the real excitement is in interacting, communicating, and finding that you and your little one agree.

• Sarah Fallon writes on everything from fairy tales to farming. His non-fiction and short stories have been published widely online and in print in places like Overland, Mindful Parenting, and more.

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