By Jamell Andrews During the first six months of a child’s life, parents go through virtually every conceivable emotion, from elation, to frustration, to hope, to terror. But there is one that stands above all the rest: The pure elation you feel when you begin to truly communicate with their little one. During the very early weeks of the baby’s life, parents are busy taking care of all the baby’s needs, but it is not until a little later that the back-and-forth, loving communication becomes tangible. And when this happens, it is one of the highlights of any parent’s life. For first-time parents, it can be difficult to know exactly what to expect from a child during the first six months. Every child is different. Plus, new parents who have limited experience with infants often imagine that back-and-forth communication begins immediately after birth. Many are surprised to discover that a newborn cannot make eye contact and barely responds to stimuli. This phase is short-lived, however, and the magic of parent-child communication comes soon. The first three months Of course, newborn babies do communicate, as new parents quickly learn. Newborns cry for several reasons, including hunger, sleepiness, hot, cold, stomachache, and discomfort. And while the crying tends to be rather subdued right after birth, it tends to pick up after a couple of days-usually right around the time baby comes from the hospital. From this point, the baby’s communication is steady crescendo of crying that usually peaks after two or three months. For many parents this is the period of greatest frustration and lost sleep. But it passes. The second month is when the magic really begins. That is when you can expect to see your child smile for the first time, and if you are lucky she may even begin to smile in response to you. Around the same time, the baby will begin to make non-crying vocalizations. By the third month these vocalizations will become recognizable speechlike sounds (lots of “boos,” “goos,” “ha’s”), and soon she will begin to make these sounds in response to your speech. Meanwhile, she will no longer have trouble making eye contact with you. During this time, the best thing to do is follow your baby’s lead. Whenever the baby is in the mood to smile and baby talk, go along with her. Get close, make eye contact (she will see you best if you place your face 1-2 feet from hers), and talk to her. You can say real words to her, sing her songs, or even imitate her vocalizations. The key is to make it a communicative activity. When she is in the mood, she will love it. The second three months If you thought those first smiles and early baby talk were exciting, wait until you experience what happens next. Around the fourth month, you can expect your baby’s first laugh. Younger babies often make laugh-like sounds, but these sounds are generally not in response to anything in particular. In these later months, however, your baby will begin to laugh at things you do. And when he is in the mood to be entertained, it is your job to be the entertainer. Let go of your inhibitions and figure out what makes him happy. You may sometimes feel you are making a fool of yourself, but it is worth it. The other exciting development in these months is that your child will begin to understand speech a little better. He will not be able to understand sentences or make words himself, but he will definitely learn his name along with a few basic words. Meanwhile, his own vocalizations will begin to sound more like real speech. Do not expect real words, though. That will take another year or so. You can help by continuing your conversations with your baby. Again, these can involve real words, baby talk, or even songs. Supplement the speech learning with books. He may not be very engaged with them, but he will enjoy your voice, and the activity will get him used to hearing a variety of words. Outside your reading, though, it is best to keep speech simple. Speak with simple words and sentences, and be sure to enunciate everything clearly. This will help your baby get a grasp on speech a little more quickly.