Life is busy these days.
It can feel like a whirlwind from the moment you wake until you finally lay yourself down to sleep, and even the nighttime can feel busy when you have small children.
It is easy in these times to forget to give communication your full attention.
But we’ve all read the statistics about how much communication is non-verbal, meaning the words that emerge while we speak are only a fraction of the process.
Tone, inflection, rhythm/cadence, and body language all collaborate to send a message.
Children are especially sensitive to this non-verbal language, as they haven’t spent as much time ignoring it as adults have -they are little observant sponges, as I’m sure you’ve noticed!
So, when we are only partially connected while communicating, the message frequently gets lost. We have to repeat ourselves, get louder, and find ourselves in more conflict than is necessary. It’s exhausting. And, children’s communication is completely under construction – meaning it can be messy and confusing. It becomes even more useful then for us to be very clear with ours.
I offer some ideas on how to clarify your messages to your children (and others) so that you can become more effective, and hopefully end up having to do less!
- When you want to make an impact, stop what you are doing before speaking. Nothing muddies a message like incongruence. If you mean what you say and want to be heard – focus on communicating your message, and nothing else. Look up from your book, phone, cooking, writing, whatever – turn your body toward the person you are speaking to, and look directly at them. Continuing to pay partial attention to something else while trying to speak to someone will absolutely dilute your message and make it seem like what you’ve said isn’t that important.
- Move closer. Proximity can be a helpful tool to increase pressure. If you find you have to repeat yourself when making a request, time to move closer. Children struggle with dual focus – or paying attention to more than one thing at the same time – so moving closer helps your child notice you, and your words.
- For children, drop down onto a knee and make eye contact to speak to them about something serious. Whether you are offering comfort or setting a limit, dropping down to their eye level conveys your sincerity as well as confirms their attention is in fact on you. Not many children are able to stay busy in an activity while also listening to someone speak, and retain what they’ve heard. Eye contact encourages you both to pause.
- Pay attention to tone and rhythm of your voice. Yelling begets more yelling and chaotic communication makes you and your kids feel chaotic. Intentionally choosing softer more rhythmic ways of speaking draws children in, especially when they are very small. We sing-song when we speak to babies for a reason – they like it! Your children will appreciate it too, and hopefully it can reverse or prevent an environment where shouts and shrieks are the only way anyone gets heard around the house.
- Use touch when appropriate. Babies and children not only crave comforting touch, their brains actually rely on it for their healthy growth and development. Try to offer comforting touch/holding whenever your child asks, even if only briefly. As parents, we all get “touched out” from time to time – this is a message from your body that you need support from other caring adults, not that your children are too ‘clingy’. Comforting touch releases happy and connecting hormones in the body, for you and your child.
Truly, tuning in to your body as a parenting tool can be incredibly helpful, though takes some practice and intentionality. It won’t always be perfect, nothing ever is, but adding this to your parenting repertoire will clarify your communication while also helping you and your kiddo to feel more connected – a great recipe for reduced conflict.
What body language have you found to be helpful?