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Learning the language of your baby

Watching your baby’s behavioural cues can give you many clues to what they are thinking and how they manage different activities such as bath time, getting undressed, nappy changes, playing, getting tired and sleep. Some behaviours are very clear and others can be quite subtle. As your baby matures they start to manage the different sensory inputs both inside and outside their body more easily and this will give you a greater period of time to understand what they are saying. By responding to your baby’s cues in a timely way they will realise that you understand what they are communicating and can help them.

In the first few months your baby is getting used to the sudden change in their surrounding environment. Initially your baby will use fussing and crying as their main method of communication to let you know they are uncomfortable, hungry, overstimulated, tired or in pain. It is a nice clear way to get your attention and is completely normal.

Fussing vocalisations are your baby’s way of saying that something is wrong and they need something to be different. Other behavioural cues might be turning their face away so they don’t have to make eye contact (gaze aversion), yawning, raised eye brows, frowning, grimacing, sneezing, slightly pursed lips, a worried look, a glazed look, splayed fingers with a stiff hand or frantic movements of their body. The photos below show some examples of facial expressions that babies can use.

Staring

Grimace

Frowning

Tired

Worried

Raised Eye Brows

How to make changes to your baby’s sensory environment

If your baby is starting to appear overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation going on around them try some of our strategies to help them calm down. It may take your baby a little while to register and respond to a strategy. Watch your baby’s cues and see if they start to move back into a calm alert state.

  • Try removing or changing the toy they are playing with. For example if they are playing with a toy which has lots of visual information (e.g. a light up toy) try something which they can explore with their mouth or hands to give their eyes a break.
  • Are they surrounded by lots of toys and people making different sounds? If you are at a baby group and this happens try laying your baby in between your legs on their back. Your legs can act as a wall to block out some of the visual and auditory information. Babies attend best when they are offered one toy at a time.
  • Try making the room they are playing in dimmer, maybe the sun is streaming in through the window and they don’t want to look at it but they are finding it hard to turn their head away. Babies are drawn to bright lights which is why they often stare at the lights on toys or the TV and don’t look away.
  • Babies can manage interaction from us in short bursts. If your baby is turning their head away from you and starting to look around the room they might need a break.

Understanding your baby’s language can help you and your baby manage the everyday challenges that you both face and hopefully lead to a happy parent and baby partnership.

At Little Tots Therapy our specialist children’s occupational therapists can support you in understanding your baby’s unique behavioural cues, competencies and challenges. Our sessions are completed jointly with our specialist children’s physiotherapist who can advise on your baby’s current motor skills and how to best support their next steps.

Contact us

If you would like to contact a member of the team to arrange an appointment or just ask some questions please email us at info@littletotstherapy.co.uk or phone 07538 189071
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