Non-verbal Communication with Children


By Sally Sacks (author of the book "How to Raise the Next President")

We are all mirrors to our children. By observing us they learn how to interact with others, accomplish goals, and get along in the world. We are the examples, and what many do not realize is that our non-verbal messages and actions are stronger than our verbal ones. Do you ever hear a friend say, "My mother would just give me that look, and I would feel bad about myself"? Someone else might say, "I walk into a room, see his face, and my whole mood lifts." These folks are describing non-verbal communication.

If someone says they love you, but has a look of indifference, or looks lacking in spark or emotion, we tend not to believe it. If someone hugs us, but is afraid of touch and uncomfortable, we feel it. If someone says that they like our clothes but looks distracted, we tend not to give it credit. If we are told that we are important, but a parent is always on the phone, or distracted when listening to us, we do not believe that we matter. If someone talks to us while watching TV, or reading, with no eye contact we feel ignored and unimportant.

Non-verbal communication consists of expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, and actions. If one looks angry or disappointed, communicates in a nasty tone, or looks all around while talking, this non-verbal communication sends negative messages to the recipient.

We all learn by taking those messages into our subconscious mind. That is the part of our mind that is unaware that messages are even going in. If you likened the unconscious mind to a computer, it would be what you find when you open the files on the desktop, symbolic of the (conscious mind). The conscious mind is like the desktop. What you see is what you get. Nothing is hidden, it is what it is. You see your friend sitting in the room next to you. You know a test is coming up. Unlike the up-front conscious, the unconscious holds the hidden details, and stores them. Non-verbal messages are particularly attractive to the unconscious. Do you remember the look of an angry teacher, or a loving aunt, or a feisty barracuda?! I remember the non-verbal message of the fin in Jaws. It still sticks with me to this day!

If non-verbal communication is constantly negative and disconnecting, the unconscious will pick up a value of the self that is low and inaccurate. One might not even know why he or she has such low thoughts about the self.

Techniques such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (which teaches control of emotional health) and hypnosis can help to communicate with the unconscious, the buried, the forgotten, and can find the root of problems long hidden from view. In workshops on how to communicate with the unconscious, I sometimes call these techniques "Deep Sea Fishing." The answers lie within.

How can you promote healthy self-esteem through non-verbal communication?
  1. Listen to your children when they speak. Give them your full attention and eye contact. Let them know that it is important to hear their point of view.
  2. Do not be afraid to nurture a child. Touch their hand or back, have an upbeat voice and smile. Mirror their movements as they talk. If they use their hands to talk, they are showing you their communication style. If you use your hands to speak back to them, they will relate to you more. You will establish a good rapport with them.
  3. One way to establish rapport is to find out your children's representational system. Some people are visual, oratory, kinesthetic, or olfactory. Speak in your child's system. For example if your child says, "I can't picture myself in that class," he or she is visual. If he says, "I hear what you're saying and that rings a bell for me," he or she is auditory. If smells attract your child, like the smell of cookies, or gum brings warm memories, he or she is olfactory. If touch resonates, use touch and body language more frequently.
  4. Remember to smile, connect, and learn how to be relaxed as a parent so your child can learn the same.
  5. Tell children stories with lots of expression. It will captivate them.
  6. Act curious in your expressions with kids. Let your curiosity and questions show how interested you are in them.
  7. Avoid too serious a look or tone. Lightness and easygoing behavior always fares better.
  8. When your children talk to you, pay attention to them. Do not be on the phone, writing, or doing ten things at once. Value their presence.

Just remember, if you look back at who you are today, you will find that you are a replica of your parents. If you are different, then you may have worked hard to accept the things you could not change or did not want to change, and changed the things that you could.

"A look is worth a thousand words. Choose wisely."

Remember that words are redundant. The expression and body language tell the story.

Sally Sacks is a counselor and educator, and author of the book How to Raise the Next President, a parent's guide to giving children the secrets of success. She holds workshops on Changing Thinking for success and offers counseling and hypnosis in her office and by phone.