Tips to Encourage Gestures
Gestures are precursors to language development and are a crucial prelinguistic skill. Gestures allow a child to intentionally communicate with their caregivers without the use of language. Examples of gestures include actions such as waving, shaking, and nodding your head, showing and giving objects to other people, and pointing. By 16 months of age, a child should have at least 16 gestures.
Tip #1: Model the same gesture repeatedly throughout the day. Children learn through play, daily routines, and frequent repetition. So repeating the same simple gestures while talking and playing with your child can help build their communication skills. Some good examples of simple gestures include waving hi and bye, pointing at things they can see, clapping when they say “yay”, etc.
Tip #2: Pause and wait. Pausing and waiting gives the child opportunities to use gestures themselves, without putting pressure on them to do it (i.e., avoid saying “now you do it” or “do X”). Give your child repeated opportunities to copy the gesture throughout the day.
Tip #3: Pair the gesture with a word. Use a word that matches the gesture to help reinforce the meaning of the word and action for your child. For example, if the child claps, then clap too and say “yay”. If the child points at a dog, then point at it too and say “look, a dog”.
Using gestures helps to support the development of other skills, such as language, play skills, behavior management, literacy, and more. The use of gestures is an important social communication skill that shows that the child’s communication skills are progressing.