Baby's First Language

Updated: Mar 25

There have been some truly amazing developments in our knowledge of how babies' brains grow. Ultimately, we want to promote healthy relationships, and this helps brain development which can lead to healthy psychological, emotional, and physical development.

For now, let us start with the basics. The building blocks of baby's first form of communication. These are the cues that all baby’s use to try to tell us something. These cues are universal across culture, but also consistent throughout the lifespan. Yes, even as adults we use some of these non-verbal cues.


When was the last time you were bored in a conversation? Did you look away? Bring your hand to your face? Yawn? These are ways that you check out (disengage) from an interaction to pace your ability to soak up information (engage). As adult we can regulate our interactions and our emotions associated with learning (for the most part).


Babies can only take in so much stimulation before they may need a break. Only they have little to no control over their environment. They want to soak up as much information as they can, but they need our help to regulate the environment and their emotions too. If too little or too much is happening (over or under stimulation), they try to let us know. They will give cues to say I’m loving this (or that they are engaged in an activity) or this is too little/too much (that they are disengaged in the activity). When they take breaks from interactions, they are busy making sense of it all and building the connections for brain development. They are also learning how to regulate their emotions and pace interactions so they are ready and able to learn.


As parents, when we respond to a baby’s cues in positive and sensitive ways, babies learn trust and this helps them feel safe and secure (read: secure attachment). When a baby tries to communicate through these cues and they are responded to appropriately most of the time, they learn something very important: that they are able to communicate what they want and that their parent’s responses are predictable and caring. This becomes the core basis for the parent-child relationship.


Ok! So we are going to review the common ways that babies try to tell us things. Some of these things you may have seen your baby do and you may already know what they mean and that’s great! Others may be new to you. Basically there are 3 categories of cues or things babies do. I love the way that the amazing people at the Parent-Child Relationship Program have used a traffic light analogy: Green light, Yellow light, and Red light Cues. Just like the traffic lights, green generally means “I am good to go”; yellow means “slow down, speed up, or change it up” and red means “stop! I need help!”.


The trickiest part is that these cues don’t happen one at a time! They often happen in clusters. It can sometimes be tricky to figure out what is the overall message you baby is telling you. For example, if you are playing a game of peek-a-boo and your baby is smiling and looking at you. Then they start to look away, flex their fingers, but then return to look at you and smile. Overall, they are really enjoying the game, they may have needed to pause and give themselves a moment to break, but then returned to the activity.


I hope you learned something new about your baby and maybe a different way to think about what they are trying to communicate. I wanted to highlight the three different categories of baby cues: Red light – “Stop, I need help!” Yellow light – Slow down, speed up, or change it up” or Greed light – “Keep going! I’m having fun!”


If you want more information or something you can refer to we have a free ebook on Baby’s first language or register for one of our interactive workshops.



Julia Imanoff and Aaron Li are Registered Nurses who support and strengthen families. The content on this website and in our programs is research-based and adapted for real-life parenting. Copyright Colo Families Inc. 2020

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