He shifted his weight from one foot to another.
She ran her hands through her hair.
The bald man rubbed the top of his head.
The mother shook her fist at the two year old who stood in a pile of toilet paper and kleenex.
Dad threw up his hands to the heavens before glaring at me, speechless.
All things a character may do when experiencing a strong emotion: nervousness, stress, frustration, anger.
blurting out without thinking first
no sense of direction
All things a character may display often throughout the course of a novel. A characteristic quirk. Something a reader comes to rely on. Something that lets the reader KNOW your character. Something they come to expect when certain situations arise. These are character quirks that help your novel move along. They make your reader know your characters, fall in love with your characters, become exasperated with your characters - all good things. They eliminate unneeded dialogue tags and adverbs.
Oh, he's rubbing his head again? Now I know he's nervous!
When can all this hurt you? When they contradict something your character might normally feel. Don't mislead your reader! If your character runs her fingers through her hair while she's flirting and suddenly does it while talking to someone she hates, don't be surprised when your reader reacts by saying "She can't like him! He's such a jerk!" unless, well, she likes him. If she feels like screaming at him and running away - no hair combing needed.
Pay attention to these actions. Your readers will. Happy writing!
(psst. . . marathoners. . . word counts due tonight at midnight for week's total. email christy. it's anyone's game. first to the finish line wins great prizes, but of course, we're all winners. we have to say that, we're teachers.)