Mama Sandy: No need to scream, just use body language

I overheard my son narrating to his cousins on how I use my face for communication while we are in public. He knows my angry face, my ‘I’m proud of you son’ expression and the ‘Behave before you get spanked’ face. And of course sometimes he misinterprets my messages because they are not by speech. Giving positive nonverbal messages can improve your relationship with your child and boost emotional connection in your family.

Most children love being hugged and kissed, for example. Such ‘warm and caring’ actions send the nonverbal message that you want to be close to your child. Some children with special needs – for example, children with autism spectrum disorder and sensory sensitivities – might find body contact difficult, so they definitely need to be handled different, and how that should be done is a discussion topic we will get into on its own.

Negative nonverbal communication, however – for example, a grumpy tone of voice or a frown – when you are doing something fun together might send the message that you don’t really want to be there.

When you match your verbal and nonverbal communication, it makes your words more effective. Over time I’ve come to realise that facial expressions are a great form of communicating especially in public. When I was little, my mum would say so many words with just one look at me. I would know that she needs me to tidy up or be silent.

It’s now working for me too. But keep in mind that when verbal and nonverbal messages don’t match, your child might believe the nonverbal- after all, what you see is what you get. Children many times learn about nonverbal communication by watching their parents. If you approach new people in a relaxed way, your child is more than likely to do the same.

And the good news is that there is almost no limit to the things you can communicate using body language and tone of voice to send helpful and positive messages to your child: A touch on the arm, for instance, tells him or her that you are interested and shows you care, while a hug builds emotional connection.

Frequent eye contact says you are listening, ready to share feelings and connect with your child, while facing your child says, ‘I am giving you my full attention’ and ‘You are important to me’. Bending down to your child’s level shows you want to be close and helps him/her feel more secure.

‘Mirroring’ or using the same facial expressions or tone of voice as your child sends the message that you are trying to understand how she’s feeling. For example, if your child smiles at you, you smile back. This can also build up your emotional connection over time.

Being aware of your own body language and tone of voice as you talk to your child and others will also help your child to develop good nonverbal communication skills.

If you have a pleasant tone of voice and a relaxed body posture and facial expression, you’ll seem approachable to your child. And soon, you will discover there is no need to scream your lungs out trying to pass on a message, instead, learn to make good use of facial expressions and body language. Enjoy your parenting.