Thursday, May 19, 2011

Communicating With Babies

Communicating with a one year old can be a frustrating experience.

See, you communicate with a baby in plain English, and the baby stares back at you as though you've lost your mind. If you repeat what you've said enough times, a baby may grunt or blather some nonsense back at you, but you won't understand a word of it. And I'm beginning to suspect that the baby has no idea what she's saying either.

It's baby bullshit is what it is.

Despite the futility of all this, sometimes it's necessary to try and communicate with a baby.

For instance, my particular baby is fond of electricity. It is necessary for me to communicate that electricity can be bad for the baby. Babies tend to have soft wet mouths and they seem to enjoy putting things in those mouths at the approximate speed of lightening.

This kind of adult-to-baby dialogue occurs somewhat regularly in my house:

Baby: Grabs cell phone charging cord and attempts to insert plug-in end in soft, wet, baby mouth. (Tone: None. Body Language: Relaxed. Facial Expression: Innocent.)

Me: "UH! UH! UH! UH! UH!" (Tone: Alarmed. Body language: Running at high speed towards baby with hand outstretched. Facial Expression: Animated. )

Baby: Puts electrical charging cord in mouth.

Me: "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" (Tone: Disapproving. Body Language: Pulling charging cord out of soft wet baby mouth and shaking finger at baby. Facial Expression: Stern.)

Baby: "AHGH AHGH AHGH AHGH!" (Tone: Growly baby voice. Body Language: Relaxed. Facial expression: Deadpan.)

What we have here is a failure to communicate. It's like a grand mal seizure of a failure to communicate. A trifecta of communication breakdown. This baby comprehends none of my cues. My words are obviously meaningless to her, as she hasn't managed to pick up English even after a full year of study. Which is weird, because I totally rocked French in high school and that's way harder than English.

Baby also seems to not comprehend basic body language cues. I mean, most of us don't have to read a book on body language to understand finger waving means disapproval. I haven't even busted out my "Talk to the Hand" or the "Oh No You Didn't, Three Circles and a Snap" moves on her. If she can't pick up on this basic stuff, how on earth is she ever going to understand jazz hands?

Lastly, baby doesn't seem to register facial expressions. I read that the ability to recognize other people's facial expressions is how we develop empathy. (Okay, I actually read that in an article about Botox®, but you get my point.)

So I'm mildly concerned that my baby has no concern for her fellow man. I'll watch her for signs of killing insects and dissecting the smaller mammals. But I'm pretty sure if she could get her hands on them, she'd put them in her mouth.

Not very empathetic, baby.

I'm hoping that since she's beginning her second year of English, she'll start picking up more subtleties of the language. I was also thinking of producing my own line of children's videos that will make those Baby Einstein DVDs seem like child's play. Maybe I'll call my series "Baby Buddha" and I'll teach babies about reading facial expressions and body language.

I think it would be nice if babies could develop a greater sensitivity for their parents' feelings. It's really not nice to give your caretakers repeated heart attacks over your fondness for electricity.

I mean, come on. This is just basic stuff, people.


  1. I spent the first year of my son's life trying to figure out what he was going on about.

    25 years later and I'm still wondering!


  2. You spend the first two years teaching them to walk and talk and the next twenty to sit down and shut up.

    Shaken baby campaign is so over rated (I don't mean that at all)

  3. It may be a while before the electricity thing wears off. I was 4 when I bit an electric cord, which shocked my little ass across the room. I still have the scar on my mouth, but am really none the worse for wear, although sometimes shokjhogiuf90iasaalji

  4. My 20 month old had only recently grasped the bare minimum of the english language. She has however, been fluent in animal for quite some time. She barks, neighs, meows, moos, quacks, tweets, etc all the live long day.

  5. @The People of the D: I am glad I make my people laugh.

    @Pearl: This is very discouraging, Pearl. I may have to hire a translator.

    @Myaddressname: Thank you.

    @NicePeace: *Laugh!* My 7-year-old is evidence that they do indeed learn to talk. And talk. And talk.

    @Bluzdude: Oh dear. Good thing she wears rubber soled shoes.

    @Amelia: Mine only recently started growling. I think she means it to be conversational.

  6. Meg now shakes her finger AT ME when she is upset.

    I definitely understand mocking.

  7. My youngest child woke up one day last year with a Texan accent, which is hilarious because we live in Canada and we don't watch TV so I know he's not copying Dr. Phill or anything... It's cute but sometimes I just want my little Canuck back, you know?

  8. My own 1 year old girly is very good at getting the message across when she's angry. She just bites me on the thigh, and even with only six teeth you feel it!

    Her brother is a bit older, b ut conversations tend to be less enlightening even at four:


  9. @Logical Libby: I think Meg needs to take anger management.

    @Twills: Your son has decided to assimilate with the BORG, ya'll.

    @The Jules: I didn't know you had a one-year-old too!

  10. Awesome and Hilarious.

    My daughter started talking a little at 7 months. Well, basically she would point and say "What's that?" I told the wife to tell her what it was whenever she'd ask. Big mistake. At 6 she has a bigger vocabulary than most teenagers. The boy took longer to speak and we were starting to get worried, but enjoying the relative peacefulness of it. Now it's a miracle to get them to be quiet. Fortunately neither of them developed a fondness for electrical objects.

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  12. "I haven't even busted out my "Talk to the Hand" or the "Oh No You Didn't, Three Circles and a Snap" moves on her. If she can't pick up on this basic stuff, how on earth is she ever going to understand jazz hands?"

    Oh my goodness, I actaully teared up laughing when I read this. In fact I am still laughing!

  13. @Cary: I think this child is simply obstinate. She knows we don't want her to touch electricity, hence she must and will touch it.

    @La Piazza: Thank you.

    @Kimme: Jazz hands are no laughing matter, Kimmie. You know this.

  14. Baby bullshit. For serious.

  15. My daughters invested a lot of time teaching hand gestures, sign language, in their kids. Gestures like "more" and, well, I can't think of anything beyond that a baby would want to communicate. It seems like a lot of work for that brief period of time between when they begin to talk and when then just cry and flail their arms around.

    Even if they knew a bunch of useful gestures, I think they would all be lost during those crying-flailing incidents anyway. The message is universal: "I'm pissed as hell", I believe they are communicating.

  16. Seriously. The electrical items in the mouth make me worried about her future.

  17. I have a sneaking feeling she may have trouble picking up on your cues when she's a teenager too... Good luck!

  18. Any attempt at communication will fail. Noted. Oh, this is gonna be such a fun experience...

  19. Hi Mandy,
    Great idea The DVDs "Baby Buddha" and a simple relabeling "Teen Buddha", "Young Adult Buddha",
    "Kindergarten Buddha" and one
    for my youngest granddaughter
    who wants to get married but
    is afraid to tell her mom...
    P.S. I'll purchase sets for my family & friends. ;) :) :)

  20. This is so true for not only babies, it is especially valid for teenagers. Jazz hands indeed. award for you because you rock!


  21. laugh! she must get it from donk's side of the family, right? Bad Buddha baby bad!

  22. Please update when baby grasps concept of jazz hands. Better yet, post video of baby DOING jazz hands, providing baby is not doing jazz hands in response to sticking something metal in to an electrical socket.

    Great post,

  23. I like the way you talk about this point. This was thought out and put together. A lots blogs talk about nothing exist on the net.

    How Babies Communicate