A Beginner’s Guide to Toddler Body Language
Some days we feel so in tune with our children, and other days the dining room walls are decorated with breakfast for the 3rd time in a row. Little ones have a special way of communicating with us! While they’re still learning how to communicate with words, children use body language to express themselves.
All behavior is a form of communication and although we can’t read their minds, we can pay attention to the visual cues and try to understand what toddlers might be trying to say.
Whether you are a parent or an early childhood educator, you are probably pretty good at guessing what your child (or the child in your care) is trying to tell you, but we’ve all experienced the frustration of guessing and then guessing again, which often results in your child acting out in frustration.
This post covers three common behaviors often displayed by toddlers along with some ideas around what they could mean and how to deal with them.
Avoiding your eye contact, hiding from you
What it could mean: I think I’ve done something wrong and I feel ashamed
How to deal: Ok, there might be permanent marker on the carpet somewhere in your house right now, but stay calm. Be aware of your own body language and tone of voice. By keeping your tone and body language neutral, your child might feel more at ease. They may even tell you what it is that they’re feeling funny about.
Body language expert Robert Phipps says it's important to look at your child's body angle when you're sitting or relating to him or her.
‘Sometimes sitting face on is confrontational, so try sitting at a slight angle,' he says. ‘Also for this age group try sitting to the left of her, looking in her left eye. This relates to the right, creative side of the brain.'
2. Pushing you away, rejecting cuddles
What it could mean: I’m feeling independent, I want to try this on my own!
How to deal: Take a deep breath, accept that your child still loves you more than anything else in the world, and take a step back. Let your child feel that they are doing things independently and that they have the freedom to explore while you watch from a close distance.
3. Ignoring new people or guests
What it could mean: I’m feeling a bit anxious about this new person and I’m not sure what to do.
How to deal: Just relax and lead by example, as your child becomes more comfortable with the situation, they’ll warm up.
"Young children look to their parents for cues on how to react to new situations," says developmental pediatrician Dr. Lisa Nalven. Don’t put an adult spin on this type of behavior, your child is still figuring out what’s socially acceptable.
Body language is a powerful indicator of a toddler’s comfort level with a particular situation. Although staying relaxed and calm is sometimes easier said than done, we find this is usually the best advice for dealing with most situations of communication or miscommunication!
Do you have any interesting examples of toddler body language to add to this list?
Share your experiences, and how you have responded to them, in the comments below.