Reading a child’s cues

Newborn to 24 months.

Children can communicate using facial expressions from a very early age. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Children can communicate using facial expressions from a very early age. Photo credit: Pixabay.

From birth children will begin to display an array of signs (cues) that will help a vigilant parent tune in to them. Crying is an infant’s primary way to communicate. From the child’s arrival, as parents practice listening and responding to the child’s cry, a parent can start to figure out what the child needs. Paying particular notice to the child’s different cries will help the parent determine what the child needs. According to Vanderbilt University, parents can take note of the child’s facial expressions. Amazingly, a baby that is happy to see their loved ones will display eye contact, smile and depending on the child’s age, will include excited arm and leg movements. Other facial expressions a child may display can be curiosity, frustration, boredom, sadness and pain. A child will also use gestures to communicate, such as, reaching for something they desire, push food or objects it does not desire away, turn away from sounds they don’t like, arch their backs when they are upset and point. A tired child may turn away from the parent as opposed to when a child that wants to play will visually seek the parent’s eyes and alternate between toy and the parent.

Michigan State University Extension says that for children 12 to 24 months, a child may start using beginning sounds and simple words to communicate what they want. Typically, language is just starting to develop and the child may attempt to sound out words, say a simple word, or point. If the child is displaying joy or fun, they may squeal with delight, have a deep belly laugh, actively seek the source of their pleasure, and want to repeat it. Once they tire, their facial feature will change to a different point of interest, may display boredom, and walk away abandoning the source of joy just a while ago. A child will also have developed more skilled mannerisms at communicating frustration, for instance, may throw, cry, and display facial displeasure. They will display curiosity, watch other children and adults and then attempt to mimic.

It may be a bit of trial and error for parents to figure out what their child is attempting to communicate and some mannerisms, behaviors, and vocal attempts will be more obvious than others. It will also be helpful to note the time of day the child displays certain behaviors. Eating and sleeping are two primary times a child will display tired, non-stop energetic behavior, crying, indicating they are tired or hungry. Some environments may be too stimulating. Unfamiliar people may be scary to the child. Finally, tantrums, too, are communicating displeasure and a parent can scrutinize what just happened that may have thrown the child into a different temperament.

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