When it comes to communication, verbal skills are not the only skills that are important. Your child may be the best conversationalist on the block, but if her nonverbal communication skills are not up to par, she may suffer socially. Nonverbal communication includes everything from your child’s facial expressions to her body language, such as her inability to appropriately touch others or stand at an appropriate distance when conversing. Teaching your children these nonverbal communication skills will help them not only socially, but professionally later in life.
Talk to your child about his understanding of different emotions, such as happiness, anger and sadness, advises Cynthia Burggraf Torppa, Ph.D., assistant professor and specialist of Human Communication and Family Science at The Ohio State University. Ask him to repeat the same sentence, such as “I was surprised by the end of the book,” using different emotional tones so that the sentence takes on different meanings. This will help him learn to communicate with inflection, which helps his social skills. If everything he says is in the same tone, other people may not want to talk to him because they’re never quite sure what he is thinking or what he means.
Teach your child the importance of nonverbal cues others use, advises Emory University Professor Stephen Nowicki Jr., Ph.D. Your child will learn the importance of nonverbal communication better when she learns to recognize these cues from others. Teach her to recognize what facial expressions convey anger, such as narrowed eyebrows and pursed lips. When she doesn’t recognize that wide eyes are indicative of fear, she may not realize she is scaring other children and causing herself to become a social outcast.
Ask your child to practice nonverbal communication by making different facial expressions for you to guess, advises Torppa. This gives him practice learning which facial expressions are appropriate to each emotion and how to use them in conversation. Take the same notion and apply it differently by later having him express different emotions to you using only his body language rather than words or facial expressions. This helps him learn the importance of nonverbal communication skills such as the appropriate distance to stand when talking to others, what it means when he leans in to talk to someone and what he conveys when he uses his hands to help tell a story, all of which are exceptionally important nonverbal communication skills.
- Allow your child to identify your own emotions without the help of words. Watching your movements and facial expressions will help her learn to recognize which movements and expressions convey which moods, which will help her recognize the nonverbal cues of others.
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