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The Impact of Nonverbal Communication on a Child's Development

by Melinda Kedro

A great deal of information can be communicated through a simple gesture or facial expression. Developing the ability to associate meaning with nonverbal forms of communication begins from the moment your child is born and continues throughout the stages of childhood. Knowing how to decipher the multitude of nuances comprising nonverbal communication assists with effective communication between individuals. Your child's acquisition and interpretation of nonverbal forms of communicating plays a significant role in his development.

Social Cues and Awareness

Babies begin learning how to communicate through nonverbal forms of communication. Although parents can talk to their baby using words, infants decipher meaning through intonation of voice, facial expression and gestures. The use of touch is also a form of nonverbal communication between you and your child. Through these channels of communication, your child begins to associate emotional responses and thoughts with specific expressions or gestures. Your body language consistently sends signals to your child, teaching him about appropriate social cues and the emotional awareness of others.

Communicating Emotions

A study conducted through the National Institute for Physiological Sciences reveals that when an infant perceives his parent making a happy, smiling face at him, the brain's neural positive emotional responses continues to increase even after the parent stops making the face. The same study demonstrates that the infant's neural response to angry faces decreases much more rapidly when the presentation of the parent's angry face ceases. A child's brain chemistry is effected and altered by his perception of nonverbal communication. These findings emphasize the relevance of your facial expressions and moods to your child's developmental well-being.

Sign Language for Infants

A beneficial way to support your child's nonverbal communication skills is through the use of sign language. Babies as young as 6 months old can understand, interpret the meaning of and make gestures using sign language. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health followed a group of eleven infants over a 16-month period to assess the positive effects of teaching them sign language. The researchers found that infants who are taught sign language demonstrate accelerated early language development, acquisition of larger speaking vocabularies and higher IQ scores at older ages. Additionally, infants and toddlers can use sign language to communicate their needs and desires, helping to alleviate communication boundaries between you and your child.

Assisting Healthy Development

The various methods of nonverbal communication you share with your child -- facial expressions, gestures, touch, sign language -- all contribute to his overall sense of developmental well-being. Signing, frequent displays of affection and shared smiles are all ways to increase the bond between you and your child. Keep in mind that your child is internalizing every piece of nonverbal communication you exhibit in his presence. Be mindful that your feelings match your words and that verbal and nonverbal communication signals match. For example, when your child requests your attention, turn to him, look him in the eye and give him your full attention rather than saying "Okay, I'm listening," while continuing to cook dinner or work on your computer. Consistency between what you say and what you do helps your child acquire clear, accurate nonverbal communication skills of his own.

About the Author

With more than 10 years experience in early childhood education, Melinda Kedro holds a Masters degree in education, teaching certification through the Association Montessori Internationale and is a licensed childcare provider through the Colorado Department of Human Services.

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