How often do you talk with someone and notice that her words say one thing while her physical appearance says another? A facial expression, crossed arms or the way someone leans can contradict what he says — or reiterate it. This is body language, and we must teach our kids to understand and use it.
When we talk with our kids about communication, we talk about words and tone, speaking and writing. But how often do we talk to them about the role of body language? It’s an important part of communication, yet we expect our kids to pick up on and understand it without ever actually discussing it.
Part of communication
Just as we teach kids to be clear and thoughtful in how they speak and write, they need to learn how to be thoughtful in their body language. We can do this, in part, by example, but talking about it is also helpful. Helping a child to understand that his words are more or less believeable by where he’s looking when he speaks, how he turns his body, how he places his arms, and so on reiterates the importance of clear and complete communication. Physical behavior expresses a full range of emotions, including discomfort and comfort, sadness and joy, contentment and frustration.
Overt or subtle
Body language can be obvious or subtlet. It can be overt, as in leaning in as a friend speaks (demonstrating deep interest) or barely noticeable — such as a slight turn of the head to hear someone better or to listen to something else instead.
There will be times in your child’s life when she wants and needs to use her body languge quite intentionally. In school or job situations, for example, understanding it can make the difference in an outcome. In addition, deliberate use of body language in other situations can contribute to personal safety. Body language can be as much about not sending the wrong message as about sending the right one.
While not often in the forefront of discussions with our kids about appropriate communication, using and reading body language is a critical part of their world understanding and can head off misunderstandings. It’s a little tricky to “teach” — and is more of an overall effort toward teaching about communication among people.
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