BY LINDA SWANSON, RETIRED ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL
Even though you can’t hear it, body language is a form of communication. Have you ever watched people from a distance or even turned the television volume down on a program? You were probably able to determine the type (friendly, serious, tense, adversarial and casual) of conversation or interaction that was occurring between the participants. You could see the feelings and emotions in their facial expressions, movement of their arms and legs, body posture, the manner in which they sat, their gait, gestures and even eye movements. Research has shown that the speaker’s face is the most reliable source of information about the mood of a person.
One avenue is facial muscles. Are they lightened and loosened or tight? The same features can express anger and contempt while softer features are taken to express kindness and friendliness. Children react to body language because they experience the world through intuition. Their sight, and the feelings they derive from this sense, are very strong and cause them to draw conclusions about the people around them. Children instinctively know if an adult values them, the feeling of acceptance is perceived through the body language the adult demonstrates.
In America, eyebrows that rise up and down rapidly or an eye wink signal acceptance. Yet in Japan that is considered very inappropriate, practically improper. In Greece one nods their head for ‘no’ and shakes their head for ‘yes’. Usually, tilting our head signals that we are not dangerous. This is claimed to be a consequence of your mother tilting her head when she pitied you as a child. She showed you that she wasn’t angry at you but wanted to comfort you. The same is true for negative body language, crossing your arms instantly shows one’s dissatisfaction. The way that people sit in chairs is not coincidental, we need to be conscious of our body language.
As a young mom I think the most difficult time I had with body language was when I was trying to complete a task. Whether it was my regular chores, a project or simply reading something, I found myself interrupted frequently, and understandably, by my child and or her friends. I knew the way I handled the interruptions, especially the message my body gave, had a big influence on the recipient’s feelings of acceptance.
If you’re occupied with something and your child comes to ask you a question or ask for your help with something, what happens to your body language? Do you make eye contact, give your attention to the child, and use a friendly facial expression? If so, your child gets the message that he or she is important to you and that you are respectful of his or her needs.
If, on the other hand, your body language is negative, the child gets a completely different message. Rolling your eyes to show you’re bothered by the interruption,
not making eye contact, staying focused on your task rather than on your child, an exaggerated sigh, or a scowling facial expression are all ways your body language tells the child you’re irritated or bothered by the interruption. Even if your words say you’re happy to answer a question, if your non-verbal cues say some
thing else then those are the messages the child perceives as being true.
When your body language is positive children feel that they have received your full attention and feel more satisfied with the interaction. They are much less likely to come back repeatedly looking for more attention from you. When your body language is negative children feel that they have not received your full attention and feel less satisfied with the interaction. They are much more likely to come back repeatedly or use negative behaviors in an effort to get the attention they need from you. So the pattern to develop is: your positive reactions for their secure feelings. It is an important part of their growth and development. As your children grow into adolescents, teens, young adults and beyond, they are much more likely to come to you with issues and problems they encounter if they know they will receive your focused and positive attention.
So the next time your children interrupt you, pause for a moment, and consider the influence your response will have on them. Even though it takes time it’s best for you and your children if you stop and give them your focused attention and then return to your task. You will have established a positive pattern of body language and interaction. It seems the years we have them, interrupting, are gone in a flash! That is especially true once they are part of the past. Now is the time to make that unheard language pleasantly embedded in their memories.
Researched through Body Language Expert (UK)
Linda Swanson, retired Southwestern Elementary Principal. She earned her B.A. degree from Houghton College and M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Fredonia State. Mrs. Swanson is a lifelong resident of southwestern New York State. Her early teaching experience was at Randolph Elementary. She currently enjoys substitute teaching and volunteering at Z.E.A.L., an after school tutoring program at Zion Covenant church and also a volunteer for Love Inc.