23 June 2017

Understanding Body Language


You use body language all the time and so does your child, even though you probably don't consciously think about it. You smile at your child when you are happy with him and he smiles back; that's body language. And you frown when you're annoyed at your child and he pouts in response; that's body language. In other words, body language - the meaning conveyed by body movements, such as gaze, facial expression and touch - is part of your daily life.

The more you and your growing child understand each other's non-verbal communication, the closer your relationship becomes.

Body language is used more than spoken language.
Studies comparing the amount of spoken with non-verbal language exchanged between two people in a relationship have found that body language dominates. Results of such studies show that less than 10% of emotions are expressed in words, whereas more than 90% are expressed in body language. At 3 years old, your child is more likely to use words to communicate facts and body language to communicate emotions.

Body language is less controlled than spoken language.
In most instances, your child makes a decision to speak words. His speech may be impulsive at times, but generally he says what he thinks. Body language is less easily controlled. Smiles, body posture, leg and arm movements, eye contact and other features of non-verbal communication occur without deliberate planning. This means that your child's body language seeps out even though he doesn't realise it. Interpreting his language therefore, gives you a good insight into his underlying feelings.

Although the interpretation of body language is often very complicated - estimates suggest that there are more than one million different gestures and expressions that convey meaning - there is nothing to stop you from understanding the basics. And that alone will improve your relationship with your child, right from the start.

As soon as he is born, your baby starts to make facial expressions which reflect his inner feelings. By the time he is 3 years old he has a wide variety of expressions that tell you something about his underlying emotions.

Eye contact is a natural part of human communication; instinctively we look into each other's eyes during a conversation. Variations in the rate of eye contact can indicate anything from fascination to guilt.

Once your toddler starts to move around, you'll notice that he adopts various postures - for instance, the one that tells you he is sad because he moves slowly with hunched shoulders.

Hand and fingers
If you notice that your child's hands are gripped tightly shut in a fist, you can be sure that he's angry and upset. But if they are open, dangling casually by his sides, then he is probably relaxed.

A child who shifts backwards and forwards from one foot to the other is usually concerned about something. He may feel guilty about what he is saying at the time, or perhaps he is afraid.

Rate of breathing often changes as a result of emotional state. Quick, shallow breathing is associated with nervousness, whereas deep slow breaths can be a reflection of your child's relaxation.

When he is in a bad mood, your child creates distance between you and him, perhaps by sitting on the opposite side of the room. On the other hand, he likes to snuggle up close to you when he feels anxious about something.

When trying to understand your child's body language, remember that it is not an exact science! You probably won't get it right every time.

The best way to improve your skill in this area is through accumulated experience of watching your child closely in a variety of situations. For instance, when he is a baby you'll soon know when you have interpreted the meaning of his cries accurately, because you'll be able to ease his distress. And when he is a child, you can test out the accuracy of your interpretations by simply asking him what he feels. So, spend time observing your child.

Another way to improve your ability to understand non-verbal communication is by looking at other people. For instance, you could watch a television programme with the volume turned off, so that you can see the main characters without hearing their words. Try to work out what they say to each other, solely on the basis of their body language. Or watch other people in the street. You'll be amazed at how much you can deduce from body language alone once you build up your confidence and experience. This extract is taken from Small Talk: From first gestures to simple sentences by Dr. Richard C. Woolfson, published by Hamlyn and available from all good book stores for 14.99

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