Clapping is more than a show of appreciation, joy, or excitement—it’s an important physical and cognitive milestone. Here’s what you need to know.
New parents are constantly looking for signs that baby is on track developmentally—through eye contact, smiles, giggles, and later things like sitting up, crawling, and even walking. Though you’re probably eagerly awaiting those bigger milestones, there are others—like clapping—that also show real progress.
Clapping is more than a show of appreciation, joy, or excitement. It’s a milestone for babies that marks progress in both cognitive and motor skill development.
So when do babies start clapping? We’ll break it all down here, plus explain how to teach baby this skill.
When Do Babies Clap?
Babies start clapping between six to nine months of age.
That may sound like a big window, but babies develop at very different speeds. Plus, baby won’t learn to clap perfectly overnight—you’ll likely see varying degrees of a clap as they learn the movement.
At first, baby may imitate your clapping, but miss putting her hands together each time to finish the action. It takes time to develop arm muscles, eyesight, and coordination to bring her arms together and track the hands so they meet.
Why is Clapping Important?
They may not have known the science behind clapping games like pat-a-cake, but our grandmothers were onto something when they developed these newborn games. Clapping helps foster many important skills, including:
Fine motor skills
Once babies start to realize that their hands are connected to their bodies around 2 to 3 months, they start learning to do things with those hands such as wave, point, and clap. These are all called fine motor skills, since baby has to use the muscles in their hands and arms to create calculated and deliberate actions.
When the eye’s movements control or work together with the hand’s movements, it’s called eye-hand coordination. To successfully clap, baby’s eyes must track their hands from one place to another, and bring them together. This simple action is actually quite complex, but is a necessary skill to perform many basic tasks.
To clap requires that baby focuses on their hands and on performing the action at the same time. The ability to concentrate and complete a task is an important life skill. It starts small and then builds to things in the distant future—like learning how to drive!
Babies learn by imitation, and their first claps will probably come as a result of mimicking you. This means that baby must observe your actions and then copy them—something that requires both concentration and cognitive development.
But as they get older, around 12 months of age, baby will start grasping that clapping is a form of communication and expression. They’ll connect that you clap when you are happy or excited. This realization is an important part of their non-verbal vocabulary and—believe it or not—is one of the building blocks of verbal communication.
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How to Encourage Your Baby to Clap
Encouraging baby to clap is easy: Play with baby! Here are some ideas:
Clapping games like pat-a-cake work well to teach baby how to make the clapping motion. Keep a smile on your face and use a sing-song voice to encourage baby to participate.
Clapping for baby
Did baby get the block into the shape sorter on her own? Clap for her! Start clapping when baby does something good or accomplishes something. You’re teaching her that clapping is an appropriate response to an achievement.
Clapping along to songs
Miss Mary Mack, If You’re Happy and You Know It, The Hokey Pokey… there are so many songs that incorporate clapping. Sing them to your baby and clap along. You’re working on verbal skills, fine motor skills, and bonding.
Gently manually clap
Sometimes baby may need a little guidance. Sitting with baby on your lap, or in front of them, gently grasp their hands or wrists and bring them together. Try clapping first, demonstrating the motion, and then doing it for them.
What If Baby Isn’t Clapping?
Remember: All babies develop at different speeds, which is why the window for a new skill can be as wide as three months.
Before you stress out about whether or not your baby has learned to clap, focus on trying some of these ideas, and practicing with them. If baby is approaching her first birthday and, after a few days or a week, hasn’t shown any interest or hasn’t tried to clap, you might want to talk to baby’s pediatrician. Often, it’s nothing to worry about, but a call will give you valuable peace of mind.