This week we are celebrating “Stick Out Your Tongue Day”, probably one of my favorite days when we discuss interacting with infants. For as long as I can remember, whenever my mother interacted with an infant, she would stick out her tongue, place it between her lips and blow a raspberry. She would continue to do this until the child would try to do it back. As I saw her repeatedly complete this activity with infants, I too began to interact with them this way.
It wasn’t until I was in my doctoral residency that I met a speech therapist who told me that a child sticking their tongue out at you in response to you sticking your tongue out at them is actually the very first form of communication. I found this fascinating.
Infants typically enjoy playing games with their parents and imitating their parent’s facial expressions is one of their favorite games. Sometimes an infant may even initiate this game by sticking their tongue out at you, waiting for you to do so in response. These games are wonderfully healthy ways for infants and parents to build connections, as well as for infants to begin to communicate.
I was recently speaking with KTMS speech therapist Anna Gross, MS, CCC-SLP, and she told me:
“Good mouth development is important for the health of your baby. Even in the first few months there is a critical period of learning new mouth skills. A great way to start bonding with your baby and working on mouth skills is to place them in a position where they can clearly see your face and stick out your tongue. Those tiny mirror neurons will get to work and chances are your baby will successfully imitate you. Not only is this task beneficial for oral development and future feeding skills, but imitating movements of the mouth is an important part of learning how to speak.”
Infants love to imitate, so go ahead, and stick your tongue out at them. Make sure you give them enough time to try to mimic the action (the younger the child, the longer the reaction may take). The more you repeat this game, the stronger the neural pathways become for communication.
So I guess my mom was really getting these infants off to a good start, working on their early communication skills. Who knew sticking out your tongue at an infant had so many positive benefits? 🙂