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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
The body-talk of 'social babies'
by Malcolm Prior
BBC News Online, Berkshire

Image of mother and her baby
Parents are being urged to pay close attention to babies' reactions
Every parent must have wondered what their newborn baby is thinking.

And every parent has been driven to distraction trying to find the reason for its latest outburst of crying.

A knack of reading a baby's body language could well help them find the answers, according to a child psychologist at Reading University.

An arched back, a subtle look or a face turned away - these are the signs that could prove the key to greater understanding says Prof Lynne Murray.

Prof Murray has spent the last 31 years studying hundreds of babies.
Professor Lynne Murray
Prof Murray has studied several hundred children in 31 years

She says that, by picking up on what an individual baby's physical signs mean parents can adjust their routines and behaviour to match "the needs and sensitivities" of their child.

It is clear such signs exist in older babies and toddlers but Prof Murray says even newborn babies are "much more capable of communication than previously thought".

While the scientific research has been around for years, Prof Murray is keen to get the message out to parents in general.

She told BBC News Online: "A parent should look for signs that their baby is finding it difficult.

"They might notice back-arching, turning away from something or facial grimaces.

If you can help parents notice a baby's behaviour and understand it more they will not blame themselves or label their baby as a particularly difficult character
Prof Lynne Murray
"Those things can signal the baby is beginning to find things difficult and that can allow parents to avoid full-blown crying which can be a lot more difficult to handle."

Prof Murray, who has just released new NSPCC-backed video The Social Baby, says that each newborn will have its own subtle indicators that can be picked up by a parent.

But as each child is different, generalisations are hard to come by and not to be found in typical baby manuals.

"It can be difficult for a parent of a first child to find that their baby is not behaving as it should do according to the literature they have read.

"They can almost blame the baby - you hear parents say that the baby is really trying to wind them up.

"If you can help parents notice a baby's behaviour and understand it more - and they can be helped to make sense of it - they will not blame themselves or label their baby as a particularly difficult character."

Baby
A baby's turned head could signal tears are on the cards
The key, says the professor of developmental psychology, is to pay close attention to the faces and movements a baby makes in any given situation.

But as a mother-of-three herself, she knows not everybody has the time to study their child around the clock.

"We are not saying you must never go back to work and you must spend every moment with your baby being highly sensitive.

"We acknowledge the fact that parents have different demands on their lives.

"But there may be different ways of handling situations that will help parents get what they need over the long-term," she said.

Social baby

"I did experience the fact that my own children were all quite different.

"Without naming names, one was more sensitive than the others so I have learnt from my own experiences."

Clive Dorman, co-founder of The Children's Project - the independent publishing company behind The Social Baby - said he and his wife had experienced their own parenting difficulties.

He said: "Discovering Lynne's research made us realise how different our own experience would have been had we only known at the time.

"We are determined to make this information available to as many parents as possible."


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