Words are very important and what you say to your child does matter, but your body language actually carries more weight.
In 1971 psychologist Albert Mehrabian published Silent Messages, which included his pioneering research on nonverbal communication. When it comes to credibility, Mehrabian found that we assign 55% of the weight to body language, 38% to tone, and 7% to actual words (Whisper, Mark Batterson)
Psychology Today echoes that conclusion: What your body says is more accurate than what you say and it speaks before you do. So always be aware that often we can tell what you are thinking or feeling before you speak.
Understanding that nonverbal communication is just as important as your words means that you must pay attention to what your body is saying and what it is not saying. Think about this:
- Eye rolling and negative facial expressions when your child is talking to you communicate that you don’t really care about what they have to say and have already formed a judgment.
- Crossed arms can signal defensiveness or disagreement.
- Staring at your phone obviously says you’re not really listening.
Can I just take a minute to go on a rant here? My husband and I eat out quite often now that we are empty nesters and I can’t count the number of times I’ve observed moms or dads at the table with one or two children on the phone while their child waits for dinner or is eating. If you are going to take the time to eat out with your child, make the most of it and put the phone away!!!
- A lack of response from you in any way can say that you are not really listening.
- Furrowed brows and a scrunched-up face may come across as intimidating or hostile.
- Slumped shoulders and deep sighs signify frustration and feeling let down or defeated, which, I must add, is not always a bad thing. Sometimes your child needs to know that they have let you down. But I would use it sparingly or it becomes meaningless with overuse.
- An exasperated/angry/raised tone of voice will escalate the conflict or may even start one. It’s natural for parents to get upset at their kids, but calm anger will help keep tempers down all-around.
Here are some positive body language habits to focus on:
- Touch your child’s arm or shoulder to let them know you care about what they are saying or doing.
- Give lots of eye contact. This says, ‘I’m giving you my full attention’ and ‘You’re important to me’.
- Give hugs as often as you can, even if your child doesn’t hug back.
- Affirmative movements. Show empathy with simple actions like nodding your head or smiling. This lets your children know that you are on their side and that you can identify with their plight.
- Lean in. Leaning in slightly when your child is speaking says that you are actively listening while leaning away signals that you are disinterested or hostile to the situation.
Body Language and Your Child’s Game
Let’s bring the body language discussion to your child’s practice or game. Here are the 8 most common body language bungles that sports parents make:
- Throwing your hands up. This communicates frustration and disgust to your child as they play. They see this from the game and it distracts them.
- Kicking the Dirt. Ditto.
- Pacing the Sidelines. This may communicate your anxiousness more than anything, and your angst will only fluster your child.
- Turning your Back on the Game. This broadcasts that you are disgusted and can’t stand to watch.
- Shaking Your Head. Shows your frustration.
- Rolling Your Eyes. Now, obviously your child will not see this during the game, but in pre-game or post-game conversations as you listen to their explanations or excuses, eye-rolling, even if it’s just rolling your eyes slightly to the side, suggests that you are agitated with your child because they didn’t play well.
- Scowling. Before, during, and after games, your facial expression gives it all away. No matter what you may mean to communicate with your face, a scowl says you’re not happy with your child. Attach this to their performance in the game, and they will feel like you are upset with them because they didn’t play well.
- Crossed Arms. Standing that way at a game may look intimidating to your child from the court or field. It screams, “I’m tense!” instead of “I’m relaxed and enjoying watching my child play.”
I’ve talked a lot about filtering your words, especially in tense conversations. But it would be wise to filter your body language too. Perhaps in your frustration to control your words, you let it seep out in your body language instead.
Positive nonverbal communication can improve your relationship with your child and boost emotional connections in your family. However, when your nonverbal communication sends a different message from your words, your child is more likely to believe the nonverbal communication.