Try these games to build your child’s interest in faces as a gateway to understanding others.
Peek-a-boo – ages 8 months to two years – You know this game. Take a book or just a piece of paper and cover your face. Move the paper away from your face a different direction, each time making a different facial expression: frown, smile, show your teeth, stick out your tongue, etc. This is a great game to settle down your fussy infant during a plane ride and can occupy a youngster for long periods of time. In fact, you will probably find that your child will stick with the game long after you have reached your saturation point.
Animal faces – ages two and a half to five -- fish pucker their lips, beavers have buck teeth, snakes stick out their tongues, cows chew their cud, and bunnies wiggle their noses. Although animals don’t have facial expressions, we can imitate how their faces look, and children love that. Imitate an animal and see if your child can guess what animal it is. Or, ask your child to imitate an animal and you guess. Or, look at close-up photos of animals in animal picture books and try to imitate their faces
The barrier game – age four to ten – (Charades for young children) Sit at a table with a screen or other partition between you and your child. Each of you picks an object out of a toy box without the other knowing what you chose. You are not allowed to use words or sounds or show the object; you only use gestures and facial expression to try to get the other person to know what is hidden from view. For example, if you choose a truck you can gesture holding a car steering wheel with two hands while you intently look to left and right to scan for traffic. Or, if you choose a doll baby you can imitate rocking or feeding the baby. If you choose blocks you can gesture building with the blocks and smile at your imaginary construction. The object is to be creative about communicating without words, a good exercise for the right side of the brain.
I know you have read and heard about social intelligence. Neuroscience research has shown that the human infant is very tuned in to emotion conveyed by voices and faces. At four months of age the infant relies on voice inflection and facial expression combined, but by seven months the child starts to be able to deduce emotion from facial expression alone. This skill is being honed long before a child begins to talk, suggesting that we are very social animals. So, as far as the brain is concerned, reading faces is just as important as listening to speech.
Step 9 – build social intelligence through games that involve reading facial expression