Monday, June 16, 2014

Kids Excel in Understanding Facial Expressions

Do you ever wonder if, when babies grow up, even though they succeed in understanding higher brain functions, they lose some of their intuitive factors as they age? 

Unless adults are adept in the art of physiognomy and phrenology, they may not read people better than kids do. Babies, because they have no knowledge yet of word meanings, intuit situations based on facial expressions and body language. Unfortunately, though, as they grow, they spend more time expanding their vocabularies and knowledge base than they do on developing their intuition. Another sad factor is that parents sometimes dismiss their children’s interpretations of what is going on around them. 

Because I started babysitting early in my life, I’ve been watching children respond to their environment and situations occurring around them since I was a teenager. I’ve noticed that babies and toddlers express themselves instantaneously. Older children, probably because parents admonish them for their behavior, suppress their emotions and keep them in check. But if they’re lucky, they’ll hold onto that part of themselves that allows them to read a face and understand body language. 

One recent weekend, while I attended a graduation for one of my granddaughters, I had an opportunity to observe a child’s understanding of facial expressions first-hand. I rarely get to see some of my grandchildren who live far away from me, so I’m very excited when I get to spend even a little time with them. When 6-year-old Zac sat next to me at the counter at his sister’s party, I grabbed him and hugged him and told him I was so happy to see him. Actually, what I said was, “Do you know that I am so happy to see you?”

He responded, “Yes,” so I said in my teasing grandma tone, “Oh, yeah? How do you know that?” And he replied, “Because when you looked at me you had a big smile on your face.” He made such a simple observation and he expressed it so well. 

When I later thought about his comment, I remembered peering into the faces of all the people who played important roles in my life – parents, siblings, husbands, children, grandchildren, friends, teachers, coworkers – and I remembered the ones who looked happy to see me. I also remembered the ones who looked at me with disgust, and then denied that their expressions revealed the truth about how they felt about me.

I’ve learned that for whatever reason, some people like me; some people, even those who are related to me through marriage or “friendship,” don’t. What I’ve reminded myself to do is to trust my instincts. I may not always be a good judge of character, because I like to believe everyone is as trustworthy as I am, but I do instinctively understand facial expressions and body language. I’ll admit I’ve been disappointed and hurt on more than one occasion, because I genuinely WANT to trust everybody, but if someone looks at me with a gnarl of disgust oozing from his lips, and I’m paying attention, I know how he feels.

I’m glad my grandson could read my expression. I’m sure I radiated happiness from deep within my soul, because I truly was so happy to see him and his sister and brother. I like to think I greet all of my loved ones with a smile on my face, because I believe that when people know you’re happy to see them, they feel loved. Maya Angelou once said that children should know, when they look into your eyes, that they are loved. I’ve always tried to follow her advice. No matter what is going on in my life, I don’t bring my problems and concerns with me when I’m with my kids or grandkids. I bury it in my soul so far that when they look into my eyes, all they see is my love for them.

What do your kids see when they look into your eyes?

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