How to Decode Your Toddler's Body Language

Dealing with toddlers demands a lot of patience. And, when it comes to interpreting their body language, it is truly a challenge. Here’s how to decipher it.

By Arun Sharma  • 7 min read

How to Decode Your Toddler's Body Language

Although language learning begins at birth, it takes time for a child to learn enough number of words to express himself clearly.

So, how would a toddler communicate while he is still acquiring language skills?

Of course, through a mix of both words and body language, like crossing his arms, avoiding eye contact, or pulling his T-shirt over his head.

However, many first-time parents are unable understand their toddler’s gestures, which results in a breakdown of communication. This frustrates the toddler, which leads to a further series of gestures like pushing, biting and stomping. Unable to sort the chaos, both parents and child throw their hands up in despair.

To help you both keep your sanity, we have decoded the meaning of some of your toddler’s gestures. Read on to understand what your little one is trying to say.

Rubbing his eyes: When your toddler stares at you with her large beautiful eyes, it fills your heart with joy. But if your toddler is rubbing her eyes (often accompanied by a yawn), it means that she is feeling tired and sleepy. So, make her lie down to have forty winks. Some toddlers may also rub their eyes to see the lights and patterns on the insides of their closed eyelids. This is a part of trying to explore their own body. However, if your child keeps rubbing her eyes often, it would be wise to get a paediatrician’s opinion.

Crossing her arms: Knights crossed their ‘arms’ to prove who was the better warrior but when your toddler does so, it means that he feels apprehensive and wants to shield himself. In such a situation, help your child overcome his feeling of anxiety and fear. You can do this by behaving casually as well as talking to him in a reassuring tone. Once he is reassured, his overpowering sense of curiosity will push him forward and he will be on his own again.

Pushing you away or running away from you: Sometimes, when your toddler is playing by herself and you walk over to her, she may push you away or run away from you. Her behaviour may leave you baffled, but don’t take it otherwise. Your little one is trying to tell you that she is now more confident of herself. She feels secure and wants to explore the world around her on her own. However, this doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need you anymore. Be around and keep an eye on her but don’t try to interfere in her activities unless she is trying to do something unsafe. Allow her to learn on her own, in her own way.

Tugging at his ears: Your toddler tugging at his ears might be the sign of tiredness, or an indication of a blocked ear caused by wax accumulation. It might also indicate an ear infection.

Twirling her hair: Your toddler may twirl her hair before bedtime or when she is stressed out. It is a self-comforting activity that your child may indulge in to release the tension or pent-up energy. So, don’t be concerned and try to stop her. Like most toddlers, she will outgrow this habit by the time she is three years old. Shower her with plenty of hugs and kisses and provide her with toys, to help her relax and prevent her from indulging in self-comforting activities. However, if she spends most of her time in similar self-comforting activities, consult a paediatrician.

Avoiding eye contact: There is more to this gesture than what meets the eye. Sometimes, when your toddler is playing a little too quietly, you may walk into his room to check what he is doing. But he may avoid making eye contact with you. It is a sign that your child is feeling a sense of shame and remorse for doing something he shouldn’t have done. In such a situation, be kind and understanding. This will encourage your child to open up and tell you what he has done and prevent him from developing the habit of lying or hiding things from you.

Pulling her T-shirt over her head: Your friend comes to visit you and you call your daughter to introduce her to him. But as soon as she sees your friend, she pulls her T-shirt over her head. It is a sign that your child is overwhelmed at meeting a stranger. Don’t label her behaviour by saying something like, “She is shy but she will be okay after a while.” Allow her to watch both you and your friend interact. She will come over after a while when she feels comfortable.

While the interpretation of the above-mentioned gestures is supported by psychological studies, don’t hesitate to consult your child’s paediatrician if you suspect something unusual.