Occasionally, I get cranky.
I mean, really, very occasionally. Sometimes I recognize that I’m being a little bit snappier than usual, that my patience is a little bit shorter, and that everything seems to be a little bit more annoying. Most of the time, I don’t recognize it. My husband, however, has gotten pretty good at recognizing these moods, and very quickly brings me something to eat.
Yes, I get hangry.
Lucky for me, I’m an adult, and can (sometimes) use my words and actions to express what I’m feeling. Babies can’t! That’s where you come in.
Just because babies can’t talk yet, doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate their feelings. It’s up to us to figure out how to understand their cues and what they mean. Once you are able to do this, you’ll see that your baby is communicating all the time.
We know that one way that babies are able to figure out what’s going on in the world is by watching how the adults in their life react and respond to them. The way you respond to your baby's attempts to communicate is hugely important. By providing consistent response, you're showing your baby that they're safe, loved, and that you're there for them.
So what do these cues look like? I’d love to be able to hand you an illustrated list, like a baby cue dictionary. However, every baby is unique, so what applies for one baby won’t be the same with another.
That said, here’s some of the most common things to look for when reading your baby’s cues:
How they use their body. Babies may arch their back when they are uncomfortable or in pain, stretch out and attempt to reach for something that they want, or turn their head to the side and make a sucking motion when they’re hungry.
Their facial expressions. Babies may smile when they see someone they recognize or simply when they are passing gas, or frown when they are stressed or uncomfortable. They may avert their eyes if they are overwhelmed, or may hold steady eye contact if you are doing something they like.
What sounds they’re making. Sounds are often some of the easiest to interpret, especially once you’ve heard them often enough. Babies will develop specific cries when they are hungry, tired, wet, bored, or in pain. They will coo, that cute little baby sound, when they are content, and will start to laugh when something is particularly amusing.
So, what do you do now that you know what baby’s cues can look like?
Observe your baby. Really watch how they act throughout the day, and try to catch what they’re doing before specific activities such as feeding, diaper changes, or being picked up.
Act on what you think they need, and be consistent. This is perhaps one of the most important steps: you need to actually do what you think they’re asking for. If you recognize that wet diaper cry, then go ahead and change that diaper right away. This is how you teach children that you are there for them and that their attempt to communicate worked. Definitely comes in handy as they get older.
Keep at it! If you misread a cue, that’s okay. Just try again, and keep trying until you figure it out. You will figure it out. Pretty soon you’ll have built your own dictionary of baby cues in your head.
You’ve totally got this.
Check out this resource from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning if you’d like to read more about what baby cues may look like, and reach out to us here if you need more support figuring out how to read your baby’s cues.