Your baby speaks to you in two ways, through verbal and non-verbal communication. Your baby is born with the capacity to do both, and as he or she grows older, verbal and non-verbal communication skills will advance. You have grown accustomed to your baby’s cry and may have learned what different cries indicate in your child, but there is another area where you baby communicates his or her needs, and this is through body language.
Verbal communication skills will continue to advance throughout babies’ lives, and while babies may not be able to speak and clearly express their needs, they are still communicating through their body language. Parents and child care givers who learn to read a baby’s body language, or non-verbal communication clues, can better address situations and ensure that a baby is comfortable, happy and peaceful.
Understanding your child’s non-verbal communication is imperative for understanding how your child is feeling on a deeper level. When reading your child’s body language, pay attention to his or her facial expressions, rate of breathing, the way his or her eyes are moving, how he or she is utilizing personal space and distance and how he or she holds his hands and arms. In younger babies, look at whether they are kicking their legs, rubbing their eyes, arching their back or squinting their eyes. Each of those body movements may indicate something that the child is feeling or experiencing on a physical or emotional level.
Arching the Back – Infants that arch their back while keeping their eyes wide open often do so due to physical pain and discomfort. You may notice your baby does this when he or she is experiencing colic or bouts of gas. The fingers and toes may be flexed, and your child may let out a loud cry while arching his or her back.
Rubbing Eyes – When baby rubs his or her eyes, it may be a sign of sleepiness. You’ll know if you catch your baby yawning that it’s time for a nap. Sometimes older babies will rub their eyes or keep their hands up to their eyes as a way of saying they want to play peek-a-boo.
Kicking – Babies that kick their legs may do so because they are happy or they want to be picked up in order to see you face to face. If your baby is kicking his or her legs, this is a great time to play.
Squinting – Older children may breathe heavily or rapidly when angry, and their eyes may squint.
Wrinkling the Nose – A baby that wrinkles his or her nose is indicating disgust.
Moving Toward You or Away – Older children that move close to someone is stating they would like more affection while a child that moves away may be saying they need some alone time.
Wide Eyes – When a child’s eyes are bright and wide, it indicates your child is ready to play.
Take the time to understand your baby’s facial expressions and breathing patterns. By learning how your child expresses his or her emotions facially, such as smiling, grimacing, or how he or she holds his or her eyes, you can more readily determine what your child is feeling. Through watching and learning your child’s body language, you can ensure that you are in tune with your child’s physical and emotional needs.
Raising Your Child: The Complete Illustrated Guide: A Parenting Timeline of What to Do at Every Age and Stage of Your Child’s Development, by Jen Meyers and Jamie Loehr M.D.
Why Do Kids Do That? A Practical Guide to Positive Parenting Skills, by Richard C. Woolfson.