nonverbal communication
24 October, 2021

Using Nonverbal Communication to Guide Your Children

Nonverbal communication is a critical part of human-to-human interactions.

Using nonverbal communication to guide your children is therefore really important.

What is nonverbal communication?

Many species, including humans, use nonverbal communication to signify things to others around them.

Some of those signals are under conscious control. A good example might be a conspiratorial wink.

Others are instinctive and can be hard, if not impossible, to control.  An example might be fidgeting with our fingers if we’re bored or uncomfortable with a conversation.These instinctive elements are sometimes called “body language”.

Some nonverbal communication appears to be innate and is an animal legacy. Other parts of it are learned as part of our socialisation as infants. The exact split between the two is often debated!

However, nonverbal communication plays a huge and often badly underestimated role in our daily lives and dealings with others around us. Babies and toddlers learn and use it extensively, at least in part because their articulatory skills, to begin with, may be zero or very limited.

Using nonverbal communication to guide your children

Your children will use nonverbal communication with you but that’s another subject.

In terms of your communications, you can use nonverbal actions to show positive reinforcement responses. Try:

  • reaching out to touch your child’s arm/hand and holding it gently while smiling and talking to them;
  • making lots of direct eye contact and smiling a lot. Bend or kneel down so that your face is at your child’s level;
  • plenty of cuddles while speaking to them and smiling;
  • showing amazement, amusement or at least keen interest, in everything they do and/or say. If they’re talking, try not to ignore things they say and instead always look at them and respond with a smile (true, not always practical but try!);
  • when they’ve done something well or showing development, smile and cuddle them while singing their praises;
  • avoid turning away and walking off while they’re speaking to you, as that will be immediately interpreted as rejection and/or a lack of interest (though recognising you may, at times, practically have little or no choice). If you need to terminate your dialogue and contact, explain why with lots of smiles and try to bring the chat to a friendly and mutual conclusion.

At times, you may need to use nonverbal communication to show negative reinforcement. This should only ever apply with older toddlers onwards and never with babies:

  • maintain eye contact and a calm but slightly sad tone and explain why you’re disappointed with a piece of their naughtiness. Keep your face calm and perhaps sad looking but never show anger or frustration;
  • cuddling and physical contact should be maintained – never deprive your child of your physical reassurance even if you’re needing to make a negative point to them.

Tactile children

Virtually all babies and younger toddlers welcome physical contact and the reassurance and security that comes with cuddles etc.

However, as their individuality develops, you may find that perfectly naturally some children become less ‘tactile’ and require/want less physical reassurance than others.

This process is poorly understood. If your child doesn’t want to be picked up and cuddled frequently, they’ll show that and, in most cases, it isn’t cause for concern. As adults, we know that some people like physical contact as part of their routine interactions with others, whereas other people don’t.

Don’t try to force the issue one way or another with your child.

The autism spectrum

Today, autism is much better understood though a lot remains to be discovered. We also know that some of its characteristics are more widespread in the population than was previously believed.

Sometimes, early indications of autism MAY be evidenced in children by some of the following:

  • a difficulty in mastering non-verbal communication, evidenced by difficult to interpret hand, arm or other body behaviours including facial expressions;
  • a reluctance to make direct eye or face-to-face contact with parents and others;
  • an extreme negative reaction to being handled, touched and cuddled etc.;
  • seemingly ignoring visual communication from parents and teachers by turning away (though the child may still be listening attentively);
  • having a limited range of facial expressions, often finding those expressing pleasure to be very difficult.

If you are at all concerned about your child’s nonverbal communication and interaction, you should consult a doctor for advice and guidance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *