Driving with my teenager this morning, I stopped at a stop sign and noticed a pair of women walking and talking nearby. Looking at the body language of the closest woman, I chuckled a little and said, “Uh oh, that looks like a big deal conversation! As we passed them, I noticed more body language, especially the other woman’s hands—they were by her side but with fingers splayed out. Oh, look at her hands, I said. Those are upset hands.
Of course I don’t know anything about those particular folks, really, but having noticed their body language reminded me how important it is for parents to pay attention to our kids’ body language.
Because the adult world handles 99% of our problems by talking them out, we often over rely on verbal problem-solving and communication with our kids. It doesn’t always work! Kids’ and teens’ brains, bodies, and especially their emotional-verbal processing still have a lot of growing to do.
Non-verbal communication signals are a parent’s ace up their sleeve. Your child may not even know how they are feeling themself, but their body language may tell you what’s happening under the surface.
If you’d like to use this trick more, click through here for 3 non-verbal signals to look for.
- Posture. A rigid spine signals activation. Activation in kids and teens often happens when they feel triggered or threatened. (And remember—practically anything can be threatening when you’re in that brain space.) This is often accompanied by shoulders pulled back, head lifted, and/or a little tension in the neck. Treat this situation with your own, calm, non-verbal signals: deep, slow, relaxing breath, slumped spine, patience, quiet.
- Eye contact, or lack thereof. Eye contact can signal connection, invitation/attraction, and invitation/provocation. Love or war, as they say. Avoidance of eye contact often signals shame, but can also signal anxiety or just discomfort. Insisting on eye contact is rarely helpful. Instead, tap into your inner (unspoken) curiosity about how your child/teen is feeling. Angry eye contact is often best managed by parents using the same advice in #1. Kids who are avoiding eye contact often respond well to some patience, time, and calm reassuring words.
- Proximity. Standing over someone vs sitting near someone. Leaning in versus leaning out. Touching the same piece of furniture versus across the room. These are all examples of ways to use proximity to increase or reduce the intensity of your non-verbal communication. When your child or teenager is upset, pay attention to “how much of you” is helpful. If they don’t seem to be calming, try giving them a little space.
Finally, just for fun, notice others’ non-verbal communication. Watch people lean back or look down and away, or crossing their arms. There’s a gold mine of information out there for those who are looking for it!
This was by FAR the cutest result in my “body language” stock photography search. ❤️