When our children are babies, we parents interpret their needs far before they are able to communicate them to us. Or do we? When a baby cries in a certain way, a parent may know that he is hungry. When a baby fusses, a parent may know that she is tired. When the baby smiles, a parent may know that he is content, and when a baby cries, a parent may know that he is scared. The baby, then, is communicating to the parents long before verbal communication begins. An expression, a movement, or a sound is all parents need to understand their babies’ needs.
For some reason, though, once children begin to speak, to tell us when they are angry or sad or hungry, we forget to pay attention to these non-verbal cues that we knew so well. Did you know that between 60% and 75% if the impact of communication is non-verbal?! Often words contradict body language. How many times have you asked your child what is wrong and the response is “nothing”? You know that something is, in fact, wrong. How do you know? Non verbal communication. Interestingly, when the words contradict the body language, most people will believe the unspoken messages. Being able to interpret non-verbal communication, then, reduces confusion.
What do we mean by “non-verbal communication”? It is a combination of a number of things:
- Kinesics: A man by the name of Ray Birdshistell, in the 1950s developed a definition that said that it is a combination of posture and gestures.
- Proxemics: Pertaining to the perception of space, we can “read” a person’s comfort level with us by how far he or she stands from us. Intimate distance (family and loved ones) is between 6-18 inches; personal distance (good friends)is between 18-4 feet; social distance (formal acquaintances) is between 5-12 feet; and public distance (strangers) is 12-25 feet or more.
- Chronemics: This has to do with the study of time usage, punctuality, a person’s willingness to wait, the speed of one’s speech, and the amount of time someone will listen before “tuning out.”
- Haptics: Haptics is the study of touching, whether or not your child will subject himself at any given time to being touched, kissed, or hugged. Also in the area of haptics would be handshakes, holding hands, back patting, high fives, fist bumping, and brushing an arm or leg.
- Oculesics: This is the expression of one’s eyes. Does your child maintain eye contact while talking, while listening, while observing? What is the frequency of glances? What are the patterns of fixation? Are pupils dilated or is she blinking at a fast or slow rate?
So, the next time your child is non-communicative, take time to pay attention to what he or she is really telling you.