Children communicate their ideas and feelings verbally, using words, or non-verbally, using body movements. Body language (also termed non-verbal communication) reveals as much as spoken language, but what makes body language particularly fascinating is that we don’t have as much control over it as we do over our spoken language. Body language seeps out, without us realising it.

Often, a child’s body language conveys the same message as her spoken language, while at other times body language and spoken language appear to be in conflict. In such instances, always believe the body language.

 Small babies can’t speak and their parents quickly learn to interpret their baby’s non-verbal communication in fairly subtle ways, such as the difference between a cry that signifies hunger and one that signifies tiredness.

Facial expressions

A young baby’s non-verbal communication include:

•Facial expressions. A baby’s smile signifies she is happy, her pursed lips unhappiness, and her pouting lip annoyance.


•Leg movements. When her legs are gently kicking in the air, she’s happy and playful but if drawn tightly up towards her tummy, she could be in pain.

•Arm and hand movements. When her hands are tightly bunched and held close to her face she’s probably in some discomfort, while a baby whose hands are open and relaxed is almost certainly feeling contented. Similarly, gentle hand and arm movements suggest playfulness while swinging, forceful arm movements suggest anger.

•Noises. A baby also uses sounds to signify her feelings and thoughts, such as quiet gurgling when she’s contented, or babbling to catch an adult’s attention.

•Breathing. Slow and deep breathing means a state of sound sleep or else she is about to enter a state of sound sleep, whereas shallow breathing signifies she is upset.

Bonding between mothers and babies with visual difficulties is badly affected because of their relatively poor non-verbal communication. Comparatively, a blind baby tends to smile less frequently and less intensely, makes no eye contact, has a narrower range of facial expressions, and appears more somber and morose. This restricted level of body a language means that mother and baby can have difficulty trying to form an emotional attachment.

Eye contact

Older children have a much wider range of body language because they have a more mature level of understanding, are mobile, and are able to use eye contact more effectively. These new dimensions greatly expand a child’s non-verbal communication skills:

*Mobility. An angry child can express this in a number of ways using body language. For example, she can simply walk out of the room or throw her toys all over the place.

*Eye contact. When a child is tense and nervous, she will not make eye contact but rather look at the ground, when talking to you.


Photo: Courtesy


baby care; parenthood; language