Baby Milestones: Learning to Point

Communicating gets easier—and more fun—once your child starts using his fingers to show you what's on his mind.

Baby pointing as a new form of communicating anetta/Shutterstock

At 4 months, you should start modeling pointing for Baby, who should start doing it for herself around 9 to 15 months.

What it reveals

Pointing is your baby's early way of sharing and interacting. "Your child may point at something, get your attention, and then clap when you notice the object and talk about it with him," says Lisa M. Asta, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Pointing may seem simple to you, but complex thought goes into that quick gesture. Research shows the motion means that babies are aware of future and past events ("That's my backpack for day care"), as well as objects that are no longer there ("The bowl doesn't have any more bananas in it"). And when you do the pointing, your sweetie quickly figures out that you're trying to tell him something ("There's my car key—let's go buy bananas"). 

Related: Blowing Raspberries: One of the First Forms of Communication

Encourage It 

1. Spark interest in her surroundings by interacting, reading, and singing to your child. She'll want to imitate the way you play with a toy, point at pictures in a book, and move your hands to music. "Songs and rhymes with finger movements are especially good to do," Dr. Asta says. They teach your little one that moving her fingers is fun and gets a big response from her parents, so she'll be encouraged to keep practicing the skill.

2. Enthusiastically acknowledge your munchkin's attempts to point at something. "By responding to her gestures—'Oh, there's your teddy bear!' or 'Would you like to play with that toy?'—you are reinforcing her understanding and empowering her to engage you in the process," says Thomas Odinak, M.D., a pediatrician in Fairfield, Connecticut.

3. Give hand muscles a mini workout with rattles and toys she has to pull, move, or shake to get a response.

Should you worry? 

Some babies are frequent pointers, while others may lead you to a desired object instead. "If your child's verbal skills are developing rapidly, he may be more inclined to use words than gestures," says Dr. Odinak. If he isn't pointing or trying to direct your attention much at 18 months, talk to your pediatrician, especially if he also doesn't engage with you during play. "Problems with hearing, vision, coordination, thinking, or social skills may be interfering," he notes.

A new point of view 

Being able to point has some definite perks for your sweetie. She finally has a visual way to communicate what she wants, which means no more dissolving into tears while Mom and Dad play guessing games! This milestone also helps with language development. She'll point to an object, and you'll tell her what it is and what it does. 

Related: The Age-by-Age Guide to Playing With Your Baby