Hey mum! I'm trying to tell you something: The faces babies pull aren't just adorable – they're trying to communicate. Here's what they're saying…
21:17 GMT, 8 August 2012
Every parent has been there. The baby in your arms is crying and miserable and you just wish they could tell you exactly what is wrong. But what if they have actually been trying to tell you all along — but you just haven’t known how to listen
An extraordinary new book claims that every baby uses signals to communicate. It is simply up to parents to learn how to interpret every gurgle, giggle and facial expression.
In the Blossom Method, psychotherapist and body language expert Vivien Sabel claims that every expression an infant makes can be interpreted so parents can tell if their baby is hungry, happy, upset, windy, wants to play or needs a cuddle.
PECKISH, LEFT: This baby is beginning to think about food – his tongue is flaccid and is central to the lips, but is about to protrude
READY TO FEED, RIGHT: His gaze is fixed firmly on his mother. Babies push their lips forward and tongues in and out to tell you they are hungry
‘All those adorable little shapes a baby makes with her mouth, tongue, lips, eyes and brows are far more than something for us to coo over, it’s their way of trying to tell us what they need,’ she explains.
Vivien observed hundreds of babies during six years of research for the book — including her own daughter, the Blossom whom the book is named after — during which time she developed a three-pronged principle: observe your baby’s facial expression, mirror it back to them to show them that you understand what they’re saying, then respond by providing what it is they’re telling you they need.
While her ideas may sound a little far-fetched, there may be something behind them.
Child development experts believe that babies start to communicate long before they try to form their first words, which is typically from seven months old.
‘A child is ready to communicate from birth,’ says Clare Bolton, of the National Literacy Trust. They will amaze you with how quickly they use movement, facial expressions and noises to try to communicate; it’s simply a case of reading the signs.’
Vivien Sabel says her own non-verbal communication skills were strongly developed in childhood. Her mum was born deaf, so even as a toddler Vivien had to read the subtle variations in her body language and facial expressions.
MILK NOW! LEFT: His mouth is open, his hands are close to his lips and his tongue is protruding, to say he's now really hungry
WINDY, RIGHT: He wants to sleep but needs winding. You can see the fullness of his lips and the heaviness of his eyelids
She says she could tell simply from the level of glassiness in her mum’s eyes, the way her top lip and jaw were set, or how high she held her shoulders, not just if she was happy, sad, angry, hungry or excited, but to what degree she was feeling an emotion or physical need. ‘I learned to spot little nuances in expression and movement far beyond what most people with hearing parents would notice,’ says Vivien, 43, who lives near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, with husband Vuyo, 45, and Blossom, now seven.
‘If someone tells me they’re fine, I can tell from the glaze on their eyes if that’s true and also whether they’re slightly annoyed or absolutely fuming, chirpy or overjoyed. I can differentiate between levels of distress or happiness.’
While everyone can read emotions in other peoples faces or body language — to varying degrees — Vivien says that we don’t fully utilise these signs, whereas she has had to in order to ‘talk’ to her Mum. ‘Within days of having Blossom in 2004, I realised that everything from the furrow in her brow to the little shapes she made with her mouth and the different ways she moved her tongue were actually her way of trying to tell me what she needed,’ says Vivien.
STARTLED, LEFT: The wide-eyed gaze tells us that he is surprised. Mothers should mirror this expression so the baby feels supported
NEW NAPPY, RIGHT: Here is the 'wee tongue'. The fact it's protruding indicates he's feeling soggy. Again, mothers should mirror the expression
‘I watched Blossom closely and began to see patterns to these movements that linked to whether she was hungry, about to fill her nappy, was tired, windy or needed affection. I knew not just if Blossom was hungry, but how hungry she was simply by how far and how fast she moved her tongue. When she was going to have a wee or a poo, her tongue would protrude in a pointed fashion, so I’d get a clean nappy ready.
‘If she had wind, I’d see it in the fullness of her bottom lip. As soon as I saw the signs, I could get straight on with winding her rather than her becoming distressed, mirroring her expressions so she understood that I was going to help her.’
Vivien adds: ‘The mirroring back part came through instinct. I wanted to tell her that I knew what she was saying by speaking her language, just as I always have with Mum.
‘You don’t need a degree to read these signs, just the capacity to study your baby’s face.’
SATISFIED, LEFT: You can tell by the contented look in his eyes and the soft position of his lips that he is full and satisfied
PLAYFUL, RIGHT: His beaming smile and shining eyes indicate he is clean, full and rested and is ready for some fun with his mum
Sceptics might say that Vivien is stating the blindingly obvious by pointing out signs that many mums already notice in their infants.
But Vivien insists that many more mums and babies would benefit if they simply watch their babies’ faces and make notes until a pattern emerges.
‘It’s quite animalistic — animals can’t talk to their babies in the verbal sense but they can read what their young want.
‘It’s only because I was raised with a deaf mother that I was able to make sense of all of this and understand that even newborn babies are little chatterboxes.’
The Blossom Method, (7.99, Vermilion), available in bookshops and on amazon.co.uk.