When it comes to baby party tricks, clapping is a classic. Honestly, is there anything cuter than babies who can clap their chubby little hands together right on cue?

The cool thing about clapping, though, is that it isn’t just a party trick: It’s actually an important milestone for babies.

The same goes for other hand gestures like waving — before your baby can say “hi” and “bye-bye,” they’ll start putting their hand up and flapping it around, loving all the attention that comes with being able to take part in these basic forms of communication.

Clapping usually happens around 9 months of age, but that’s just an average. Even though clapping and waving are easier to master than saying “yes!” or “bye-bye, Daddy,” these skills still take a lot of coordination. Some babies get there sooner or later than others, but it’s usually not a cause for concern if your baby falls on the later side.

Your baby might not be able to tell you in words that they love mashed banana, but if they clap every time you put it on their high chair, they’ve found a way to let you know they approve of your snack choice.

That’s bound to make both you and baby feel good — especially after spending months staring at one another in relative silence, wondering what the heck the other is thinking.

To be able to clap, though, babies need to have some serious hand-eye coordination. At first, your baby may bring their hands close together but not quite make contact. With enough practice, though, they’ll soon be able to smack those palms and fingers together in an official clap.

Most babies are able to clap around 9 months, after they’ve mastered sitting up, pushing and pulling themselves up with their hands, and pre-crawling. (All that upper body strength helps them have the coordination to clap, too.)

At first, your baby will clap to mimic your movements. Whether you’re clapping in happiness or encouragement, or along with a favorite song or nursery rhyme, your child will see you clap and want to join in.

According to a 2013 study, babies’ brains are activated when they watch an adult perform a physical task. This activation helps them eventually perform the task, too.

Sometime around 1 year of age, your baby may figure out that clapping is a means of communication and will start clapping to show joy or appreciation, not just to imitate you.

Guess what? All those rounds of pat-a-cake weren’t just for mental stimulation — they were helping your baby figure out the basic mechanics of clapping. Now, to reinforce the skill, you can ramp up your efforts.

  • Play music and clap along to the rhythm. You can sit with your baby on your lap and help clap their hands for them. (Tip: If kids’ songs drive you nuts, turn on your favorite playlist — your baby won’t know the difference as long as there’s a good beat!)
  • Announce when it’s a good time for clapping and demonstrate it for your child. For example, when Grandma blows out the candles on her birthday cake, say, “Yay! Let’s clap for Grandma!” and let your baby see you clapping.
  • Work on clapping at different speeds. Babies love variety and unexpected events, so speeding up and slowing down your clapping as you sit together can make the practice funny and exciting.
  • Give your baby frequent high fives! This helps reinforce hand-eye coordination and teaches your baby that slapping palms together is a way to show something good has happened.

Clapping, waving, and pointing are sometimes grouped together as one set of milestones because they’re all hand movements that require some elements of physical and mental coordination to work together.

But while clapping begins around 9 months, on average, waving typically starts a little earlier (closer to 6 or 7 months) and pointing starts later (usually around 12 months).

Even though these movements are similar, it makes more sense to look at them separately rather than as a set that should happen around the same time.

Waving doesn’t take as much coordination as clapping. And neither waving nor clapping requires the same level of mental cognition as pointing because that kind of communication comes with intent, e.g., “What’s that?” or, “I see something over there.”

Plus, learning one skill gives your baby the foundation needed to eventually learn the next one.

Unless your baby is showing other signs of physical or cognitive delay, it can take a good year for them to crack the code on clapping — we promise. Though the average may be around 9 months, an average means that many babies hit the milestone later (and many hit it earlier).

There’s not much reason to worry until your baby is at least 1 year. After that, if your baby still isn’t clapping despite seeing you do it, it could signal a developmental delay relating to motor or social skills.

Your little one figured out how to clap? Yay! (Insert clapping emoji here.) So what’s next?

There are some really fun milestones on the horizon. Your baby may begin:

  • shaking their head “yes” or “no”
  • following simple directions (like “find the ball”)
  • saying their first words
  • taking their first steps

They’ll also start copying many other everyday gestures they see adults and big kids performing. So watch out, lest you accidentally teach your baby an *ahem* inappropriate gesture during morning rush hour…

As early as 7 months of age, your little one may begin showing signs of hand movement mastery by waving or bringing their hands close together. By 9 months, many babies are able to clap (although at this point, it’s in imitation, not celebration). Pointing follows soon after.

Remember that all babies develop on a different timeline. There’s no reason to worry if your baby doesn’t figure out clapping until closer to their first birthday. If you still have concerns after that, talk to your child’s pediatrician.