Sunday, March 6, 2016

What Your Face is Telling Your Kids

There's never a day when my mind isn't racing a thousand miles per hour. I find myself constantly thinking about all of the places I have to be or what is left on my to do list. Sometimes it's hard for me to turn off my brain to focus once I get home. There have been times when I was mentally stuck at work but I was physically at home. My kids have asked me questions that I answered with my mouth, but my face told them that I'm not interested. The truth is, I'm very interested in what my kids have to say all of the time, but my face is telling them a different story. Just the other day, at the stop light my daughter told me that she couldn't get her seatbelt fastened. The light had just changed, so I said, "sure, "put the car in park and reached back to help her. I could literally feel her awkwardness with having to ask me to do something that she'd done so many times before. I'm certain she was thinking back to another time when she asked me to help her and I made it seem like a burden.

"We as parents need to always be aware of not just what we say with our mouths, but also with our body language."


This time I was so focused on spending time with just her that I was fully of aware of what she needed. This was only about 10 seconds in the car but a lot of information was exchanged in those moments. I noticed how intently she was studying my face as I reached back to snap her seatbelt. It was almost as if she was looking to read my facial expressions to see if I was upset about it. When I became aware of this I threw her a nice smile, which she returned. As I turned back around to go through what was now a green light, I started to wonder how many times in the past 6 years she had been reading my expressions. I thought back to a paper I wrote on nonverbal communication in college several years ago. The most shocking thing I learned from that project was just how much of our  nonverbal communication other people rely on.  My seatbelt incident was a reminder of this fact. The consequences are a little more up close and personal because in this phase of life it relates to my daughters. Our kids are constantly trying to figure out our moods through the look on our faces. It's almost like they aren't socially developed enough to interpret words quite like they are to read our raised eyebrows, curled lips, or a look in our eyes. Think about it, they've been reading our nonverbal cues since they took their first breath. Researchers show that this innate desire continues through adulthood. Studies have also shown that human beings attribute about 55% of all communication to nonverbal cues. We as parents need to always be aware of the not just what we say with our mouths but also with our body language. Raising two girls, I get a lot of practice at being a "self-made psychologist."  Several times, my sweet little ones have come to a conclusion about me for nothing more than an expression I made. As a responsible parent, it is part of my duty to communicate with them so that understand the confusing world of both verbal and nonverbal communication. Here are 4 ways that I'm learning to be a better nonverbal listener with my kids.

 4 Keys to Becoming a Better Nonverbal Listener

1. Connect Intentionally- One of the things that has tremendously challenged our relationships over the past several years has been the increase of the amount of tasks we can accomplish with our mobile devices. With these new tasks, it is so easy for us to always be connected to a device at any given time of the day. Each email notification, Facebook post, Snapchat post, or Tweet can send a direct message to our kids that they're not that important. Just the other night during family movie night my daughter asked my wife and I to put down our phones and watch the movie. My first response could've easily been, "I pay the bills in this house," but she was right. Our bodies were in the room but our body was telling them that we weren't really interested in the movie they wanted to watch with us. Some times just putting our phones in another room so that we can fully engage will do wonders for our kids. I personally think that during the few times my kids act out emotionally, could have to do with a feeling of being disconnected from mommy or daddy. I have to constantly make sure that I engage and connect with them intentionally throughout the week.

2. Intentionally Disconnect-It's important to give kids their time, but I feel it is equally as important for them to see you being fully engaged with something/someone other than them. They must understand boundaries and that the world doesn't revolve around them all of the time. The best way to do that is to spend face to face time with other people in your life. When they see my wife and I working on a home improvement project or serving at church it shows them a whole new realm of life. Recently, my wife politely asked one of my daughters, "Daddy has been away from me all day, could you to please allow me some time to speak to him?" Of course, my little one agreed and went on her way. My wife then turned back to me to continue our conversation. Setting those boundaries will curb some of the innate selfishness that kids are naturally born with.

3. Eye Contact-No matter what your kids are discussing it is vital that you give them eye contact on a regular basis. Now that's hard to do when they're jabbering in the backseat while on highway 13, but when possible stare them down. I tell my kids from time to time, "I need to see the whites of your eyes." They know that means we haven't had a chance to talk face to face that day. Everyone feels appreciated when they have the undivided attention of their loved ones. Yes, at the moment you might not care to hear about all of the character's names in Zootopia, but it's important to your child. So, why not just look them in the eye and let them know that you hear them?

4. Know When to Hold 'Em-A big portion of a child's development involves physical touch. When life seems ridiculously overwhelming, some times the little people in our house need a loving hug from us big people. This crazy world we live is becoming crazier than it ever has and our kids need to know that we are a safe place that they can come to. It's not easy for some of us dads to do the mushy huggy thing, but all kids at some point need their daddy to affirm them with a hug, kiss, or pat on the back. As we connect with them over the years, they'll teach us our own nonverbal signals and we'll just know when they need our affection. This is true for the 4 year old as well as the 40 year old kid. The Dad Days never end!