Preverbal Communication: Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Derek Hughes

Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.

Preverbal communication is an incredibly important mode of interaction that infants use to navigate the world. This lesson will provide you with the definition and examples of the various forms of preverbal communication.

Preverbal Communication

If you have ever been around an infant who was crying, grabbing things, or looking around, you have witnessed preverbal communication from that infant. Preverbal communication is a form of communication that infants use to interact with people around them, primarily their parents or caregivers. These communications are not in the form of spoken words (hence the name 'preverbal') but instead through vocalizations, gestures, or eye movements/gazes.

It's important to remember that these actions are considered preverbal communication only when they serve a function for the infant. The following sections will describe each of these forms of communication in more detail and indicate how they can serve that function.


It is often said that babies have different cries for different purposes. Mothers are able to identify their infant's needs based on the type of cry they hear. These different cries are a type of preverbal communication. Babies use different cries to alert their caregivers that they need something, whether it's a diaper change, food, or sleep.

However, vocalizations don't only come in the form of crying. You may also hear infants making different noises that aren't outright cries. These noises also serve to convey a message to caregivers. Vocalizations like this may be used to indicate discomfort, contentment, or even affection.

It is important to remember that all infants don't make the same cries or sounds to indicate the same thing. First-time parents can often be heard asking infants (sometimes very frantically) 'Why are you crying?'. It takes some time before parents are able to identify cries. However, the cry has already served its purpose of getting the attention of caregivers.


After an infant has developed some gross motor control, he or she will also begin using gestures as a form of preverbal communication. These gestures can include things like reaching for a desired object or making faces to indicate discomfort. These gestures serve to indicate something to the baby's caregiver. For example, an infant might reach for an object he or she wants or begin sucking to indicate hunger.

Gestures also get more complicated as the infant gains more control over his or her motor movements. An infant who knows how to crawl may indicate that it wants to be picked up by crawling over to someone and stretching his or her arms in the air. There are many different kinds of gestures that infants will use to indicate something to their caregivers. The only way to learn what these are is through observation and experience with the child.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account