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Body Language Lessons

Your tot "borrowed" your lipstick; now she's got a raspberry-colored kisser. And when you tell her "No, that's Mommy's," she just laughs. Maybe it's your lips, not hers, that are the real problem -- are they smiling at her adorable pucker, even as you're laying down the law? "Although they're developing verbal skills, toddlers rely heavily on nonverbal cues," says Jane Kostelc, a child-development specialist at Parents as Teachers in St. Louis. "Your tone and facial expressions communicate more meaning than your words."

Here are some classic mixed signals parents send, and how to set things straight:

  • Don't do this, though it's cute! When you tsk-tsk with a grin, your meaning will be lost. Instead, muster up a frown, or at least keep your face neutral.
  • We gotta go, okay? Raising your voice at the end of a command comes off as an offer for your child to say yay or nay. Keep your tone even or end on a lower note.
  • Relax (even though I'm nervous). If you tell your toddler not to worry about her first day at tumble class but you're squeezing her hand extra-tight, she'll sense your anxiety. Keep your limbs -- and your voice -- relaxed.