Nonverbal communication Psychology

It would be hard to imagine living in a world in which you couldn’t use language to communicate basic wants and desires to others. And yet, babies very much find themselves in that position prior to acquiring verbal skills.

Babies actively communicate. But they must use nonverbal cues to interact with caregivers. How these cues are read by caregivers is an integral part of the all-important attachment relationship and infant development.

Elisabeth Robson, a Family and Child Therapist who specializes in infant, child, and family treatments, implements “Baby Cues” into her work with parents. “Baby Cues: A Child’s First Language” is a child development program designed through NCAST (Nursing Child Assessment Satellite Training) to help parents/caregivers respond and interact more sensitively with their babies. “Baby Cues” is based on research done by nursing professor, Dr. Kathryn Barnard, founder of the Center on Infant Mental Health and Development at the University of Washington.

Robson states that knowing how to read nonverbal cues is essential because “infants, toddlers, and even young children who are developing language, but still cannot express their feelings, needs, or wants the way we as adults can, use nonverbal communication to be understood.” Because infants do not have verbal skills, nonverbal cues are all they have to communicate during that early period of their development.

According to Barnard, there are two types of nonverbal cues used by infants and toddlers: engagement and disengagement cues. When a child expresses herself using engagement cues, a parent may find it a good time for talking, teaching, playing, or feeding the child. In other words, the child is willing to interact with the parent. However, when displaying disengagement cues, the child usually tries to communicate a need for a break in whatever they are doing (whether it’s eating, playing, or listening).


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