Picture if you will, a small child sitting in a highchair. A brightly colored toy sits just out of reach. As you observe, the child makes eye contact with you, reaches for the toy, then looks back at you. What do you do?
Chances are you give the toy to the child! This child did not use words to let you know what they wanted, and yet you figured it out! Maybe you're a mind reader...more likely you have picked up on the nuances of nonverbal communication.
What is nonverbal communication? In simple terms, it's the ability to convey a thought or idea to another person without talking. We use nonverbal communication every day - we raise our fingers to our lips to signal quiet, we smile and wave to a friend to say hello, and we put our hands on our hips and frown to signify displeasure. Nonverbal communication takes many forms, including (but not limited to) eye contact, facial expression, touch (haptics), and gestures.
Nonverbal communication is so much a part of our "language" that babies pick up on it very early on! Take the child in the example above, she used nonverbal communication (in the forms of eye contact and conventional gestures) to gain your attention, regulate your behavior, and get her wants met. That's pretty sophisticated problem solving!
This article from Science Daily gives us a preview of recent research conducted by Patricia Miller and Gina O’Neill. To summarize, Miller and O’Neill gave children (aged 2-5) cards that were printed with different colored shapes. The children were asked to sort the cards first by color, then by shape. The findings suggest that gesturing proved to be a better indicator of success than other factors, including the age of the child.
This article was initially written for and published on Pediastaff. You can view the rest of it here.