My 1-year-old daughter has started pointing at things. Sometimes she "wants" them, to either hold herself or just touch, sometimes she seems to be satisfied with simply having the thing named.

Depending on what we are doing we either fulfill her "want" - give her the teddy bear or show the picture, etc. - or not. Then she often gets upset and keeps pointing and wanting for a while. Then, sometimes, stops and engages herself in another activity. Or one of us gives/shows her the thing.

In general we try to use common sense and don't let her start ruling us. I was wondering however, whether there is some well accepted way of handling this kind of behavior, since most (all?) kids go through this phase? Are there any studies about it?

  • I don't know of any standards for this, but the standard you name as using, "common sense", should be good enough and you express such a balance well in your question. Oct 9, 2014 at 13:26

3 Answers 3


Pointing is really the first way kids start to express their wants other than crying, so this is exciting for them. They also sometimes just want to know what something is.

I find that the most important thing you can do is to communicate that you understood her.

I find it useful to communicate back with words to my 15 months old, such as :

 Yes, that is your *yellow car*, here it is

(he can have the car, and I help him by telling him what it is.)

 I know you want the vase, but it is not a play thing and you can't have it. NO.

(I acknowledge his desire, but tell him no. )

That is my wine glass. That is for adults only. Do you want your own cup?

(I acknowledge his desire, and offer him an alternative)

That is our *cat*, Gauss. You are right, he is hungry

(When the cats roam around the kitchen he gets very excited and points, he clearly doesn't 'want' the cat, but he wants to tell me that the cat is there! Look at that cat! and I try to guess what he is trying to communicate)

It can also work to show and say 'no touching'.

It is so exciting for her that she can communicate, and kids really want to do that. I find that encouraging the communication is helpful, since my kids started really listening to at that age too, and I could give them simply commands, such as 'pick up the car', and it is so exciting for them to be understood, and to understand.

  • Thanks for the answer. And yeah, the first successful communication is amazing. "Put the cube in the basket", "fetch me the bear", it's amazing that she suddenly started to understand it. I can't wait for her to be able to answer yes/no to my questions, though.
    – Dariusz
    Oct 10, 2014 at 11:57
  • @Dariusz you might want to look into 'baby sign language' or simply exaggerating nod/shake head on yes no. Actually saying yes/no might take a while, but my 15 month old will shake his head for no, which is helpful. (He mostly just vocalizes excitedly for yes).
    – Ida
    Oct 10, 2014 at 21:37
  • 1
    @Ida You may want to add some information about sign language into your answer, as it's very useful to answering the question.
    – Joe
    Oct 13, 2014 at 16:32

What you're doing is perfectly fine. Her pointing indicates a want, either to have it or to know the word for it. Choosing to indulge that want is a matter of common sense; if what she wants to have is delicate, valuable, inconvenient or appetite-spoiling, she probably shouldn't get it (though obviously you can still tell her what it is). Her reaction to "no" is typical terrible twos (remember that the "terrible twos" typically begin in the second year of life, before the second birthday); she's ruled by her "id", her basic short-sighted desires, and you have to rein in the undesirable aspects of those behaviors.

For this kind of stuff, Pavlovian reinforcement is typically suitable IMHO; praise constructive behavior like her obeying your requests, indulge indifferent behavior like innocent attention-seeking, ignore bad behavior like whining and tantrums, prevent destructive behavior like attempting to handle breakable or harmful things.

Notice I said "prevent", not "punish". A time-out isn't punishment, it's a means to prevent whatever destructive behavior the child had been doing or about to do. Negative reinforcement is effective, but should be applied very sparingly, for two reasons; first, more often than not punishment is doled out when you're angry, and it's easy to let emotions dictate the severity of punishment, when said emotion isn't necessarily in line with the severity of the destruction. Second, negative reinforcement, if overused, becomes the "normal", especially if you under-use positive reinforcement, and it loses its effectiveness; it becomes expected.

Other means of prevention include diversion. Ida made some recommendations along these lines; if a child is interested in something they shouldn't have (a wine glass), you might attempt to draw their attention to something they can have (their own sippy cup). It's remarkably effective at this age, and for quite a few years from now.

Ida's also very correct that you should never discourage communication, even when it becomes annoying (and it will, trust me on that). Discourage shrieking when it's not appropriate, but never negatively reinforce a child's attempts to communicate with you through language.


Even at a young age, you can start explaining the why of your decision, e.g.:

I'm not willing for you to have the knife, because I have a need for your safety and the knife is very sharp.

Although it may feel a bit silly with someone so young, if you stick with it, you will be surprised at how quickly the little one's receptive language will develop and they will understand.

Starting to do this sooner rather than later will also help you get in the habit of communicating the why of your decisions, which will be helpful as your child gets older.


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