Connecting with Kids: The Importance of Body Language
“Have the mind-set that it’s you and your child facing the world, ready to resolve whatever problems arise. Convey your deep alliance not only in words, but through body language, posture, and voice,” Karyn Purvis, The Connected Child.
Positive and Negative Body Language
The way you respond to your children both verbally and non-verbally makes a difference. If your child comes to you with a question and you offer a response but fail to take your eyes away from your phone, you might still be sending off the signal that you are disinterested or annoyed. This type of response leaves your child with negative emotions and makes him or her more likely to pick up negative behavior say experts. Repeated negative body language over a long period of time leaves your child feeling “unwanted, unimportant, or that you simply don’t care,” according to the article, “Parental Body Language and Children” by Julie-Ann Amos.
Positive body language has the opposite effect. “If you regularly use body language that is open, friendly, and respectful of your child, he or she feels greater confidence and self-esteem, and is much less likely to engage in negative behaviors to gain your attention,” Amos says.
The way you sit, stand, or face can also indicate your mood and receptiveness to those around you. During interactions with your children, a closed off posture will have the same negative effect as the lack of eye contact. Any time you close off the center of your body, by crossing your arms or hunching your shoulders for example, you are exhibiting anxiety, disinterest or hostility. An open posture involves facing your body towards the person who is speaking to you and keeping the center of your body exposed. Open postures indicate friendliness, openness, and willingness. Purvis also recommends talking to your children at eye level to create a stronger connection between you and your child.
“You have to bring yourself to their level so they feel less intimated by you,” says Deebra Jennings, the Safe Families Program Manager for Covenant Kids. “It’s about talking with them, not at them.”
Tone of Voice
Numerous studies show that children exposed to stress or a high level of trauma have a more difficult time listening. A recent study revealed that part of the reason for this is because individuals have a harder time remembering information when it is said in a tone that produces fear or anxiety.
In a 2012 study researchers from the National University of Singapore argued that while emotions in voices helped to capture listeners’ attention, it also made it harder for those individuals to recall that information at a later date. Information that was retained, was associated with more negative feelings. Speaking to your child in a calm and more neutral tone increases their ability to remember the direction you are giving them and improves their ability to behave.
Practice Makes Perfect
Non-verbal communication doesn’t replace saying “I love you,” but using both forms of communication together can help to improve the relationship that you have with your child and reduce behavioral issues. To improve non-verbal communication skills, Purvis recommends practicing the way you give directions while looking in a mirror. She instructs her readers to ask themselves:
“Am I shaking my finger at her? Is my jaw set and are my hands on my hips in an aggressive posture? What message is my child taking at the primitive level? Is the child against me- or is it her and me together?”
As an adult, you know the importance of having allies, as a parent, you want to be one of the strongest allies your child has.