How Nonverbal Cues Enhance Communication With Your Kids

by Sanya Pelini September 27, 2017

legs of father and son under table

It has been said that silence speaks a thousand words. According to Peter Drucker, “the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.” Science has validated this point of view. Evidence suggests that nonverbal communication has a great impact on kids’ development. It can help reduce misbehavior, improve the parent-child relationship, enhance focused listening, and influence how your kids relate with the world around them. Most available studies suggest that kids learn better when verbal communication is accompanied by nonverbal cues. For instance, evidence suggests that nonspecific verbal cues and nonverbal cues are both effective in facilitating memory retrieval in four-year-olds after a two-week delay. One of the greatest advantages of nonverbal communication is that it can help kids focus and pay attention. Non-verbal cues work because they make it possible to connect with kids. Indeed, as the book “Nonverbal Communication” suggests, kids are more likely to identify positively with people who display nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact. Nonverbal communication can improve how you communicate with your kids and has also been found to drastically transform communication with kids with special needs. According to available research, using up to 75 percent of nonverbal cues can help teachers manage their classes better. Here are a few tips for using nonverbal cues to improve your communication with your kids:

Always maintain eye-contact

Eye contact has repeatedly been identified as one of the most effective forms of nonverbal communication because it allows you and your child to connect. Maintaining eye-contact also helps you stay connected. It’s harder for your child to ignore you when you’re standing close and looking her in the eye. Think about it. You pay more attention when you’re in a face-to-face discussion with someone and are more likely to totally ignore someone who’s “shouting something” from another room. Eye contact will definitely help dial down the yelling in your household. The same is true for kids. Eye contact can solve more than half of your communication issues. Getting down to your kids’ level can help even in the midst of a meltdown. It can make kids more attentive and improve focus. It also helps parents notice their child’s reaction.

Be attentive to your nonverbal cues

Words can be deceptive, but our nonverbal communication speaks volumes. Facial expressions can show appreciation, pride, and joy, but they can also show disgust, disappointment, and frustration. Head nodding is also an important nonverbal communication tool. Nonverbal cues can make it clear that you’re paying attention. For instance, repeated “ah-has” show him that what he’s saying matters and encourages him to keep talking. Hand gestures are also important. Next time you’re talking, don’t forget to encourage your kid using a head nod or thumbs up – and don’t withhold that high-five!

Touch heals and communicates

It is now widely accepted that the simple act of touching someone has a healing effect. We all know the benefits associated with massage therapy such as pain and stress relief. Less is known about the benefits of simply touching someone. In one study, neuroscientist Jim Coan found that married women under extreme stress felt immediate relief when they reached out and held their husbands’ hands. Additionally, the better the marital quality, the greater was the impact of touch. When the women were touched by strangers, there was similar but less significant relief. This was the first study to provide evidence supporting the view that human touch can affect the brain. Touch has been associated with many other benefits as well, such as lowering stress levels and boosting the immune system. Hug your kids every day. Touch them, even when you’re upset or when you send them into time-out or to their self-quieting space. Give them massages. Smile more often. As most evidence suggests, nonverbal cues work especially well alongside verbal cues. Next time you’re talking to your child, think about incorporating simple nonverbal cues and see what happens.

Sanya Pelini


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