What Your Body Language Tells Your Children

Body Language Tells Everything

Children are very intuitive. Although we may not be explicitly verbalizing how we’re feeling, parents can easily relay what kind of day we’re having without even knowing it. What is your body language telling your children, and is that what you really want them to know?

Human beings communicated with gestures long before they communicated verbally (Corballis, 2002). Our body language and facial expressions are significant ways we communicate without even having to say a word. We indicate to our children if we’re disappointed in them (frown), doubting (raised eye brows), happy (smile), angry (scowl), feeling close (warm gazes) or distant (staring into space or looking at one’s phone). Additionally, when people are angry with another, they typically distance the physical space—this speaks volumes.

Have you ever been a discussion with someone, and although they were saying one thing, it was quite clear by their facial expressions and body language they were saying something totally different?

What about a relationship? How many times has a partner agreed to do something, but you could clearly tell by the expression on their face they simply didn’t want to do what they had promised? What did you find more reliable—the look on their face or the words they were saying?

We may not even realize what our body or facial expressions are doing, but to others it’s loud and clear, especially to our children. Sometimes we are just feeling exhausted, stressed, or beat down by life. It happens to all of us.

There’s nothing wrong with being authentic and owning how we feel. Everyone has a bad day here and there, and that’s okay, it’s part of life. The problem occurs if negative feelings such as powerlessness, disengagement, or stress become manifested as our normative mindset.

When this occurs it becomes prevalent in our body language. We begin to shut down, and withdraw. This causes us to slowly retract from becoming active and present participants in our children’s lives.

Remember those stereotypical jocks back in high school, and how great they felt after winning a sports event? They didn’t have to tell us—we knew. They walked around Monday morning proud, confident, and pumped up. Everything they felt internally was oozing out of their pores and showed on their face and through their body language.

Yet, when we’re not feeling so great, the reverse happens. We slouch, we don’t smile, avoid making eye contact, and aren’t physically open or engaging. We physically retract because we’re psychologically and emotionally feeling helpless or weak. Conversely, such as in the sports example, when you feel great, it’s reflected in your nonverbal expressions and behaviors.

As stated, feeling overwhelmed or down happens to everyone. The great news is that we do have the power to deliberately create a more upbeat outlook and presence. Even if you don’t feel up to singing on a mountaintop like in the movies, there are proactive steps you can take that will turn those negative thoughts into more positive outcomes.

Be Present In the Moment

If you are always disengaged thinking about something else, this will be projected in your facial expressions. When you are with your children, try to keep the focus on them—not reading text messages, responding to work emails, or paying bills. Focus on the activity at hand. This will allow your facial expressions to only reflect what’s going on with you and them. Be present and live in the moment—they’ll be grown before you know it!

Consciously Monitor Your Facial and Body Expressions

Begin self-monitoring and reflecting on how you carry yourself. Are you always frowning or walking slumped over because you feel exhausted and beat down? If so, change this!

Always look frazzled and exhausted? You have the power to turn this around. Pay attention to if you are frowning more than you smile. Do you retract and keep a comfortable distance from others, rather than exuding warmth, security, and strength? Active self-monitoring can do wonders in terms of starting new habits.

Not Feeling So Great? Fake It!

Harvard Business School social scientist and behaviorist Amy Cuddy’s research shows people can fake feeling powerful by power poses. Feeling anxious and stressed? Stand in a power pose with hands on your hips and shoulders back. By putting yourself in physical poses mimicking confidence, a person will start to feel more in control.

Her research shows that only two minutes of power poses such as arms held up like you’ve won a game, or the Wonder Woman stance, actually affects the way we feel. It raises testosterone levels, and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. For more on her research, watch her engaging and insightful TED Talk here:

What does this mean for parents? We do have the power to change our mood by altering our body language. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or beaten down, we can deliberately change our attitude by changing our physical stance.

Remember, our body language and nonverbal communication speaks volumes about what’s going on our lives. By implementing these three proactive strategies, you can change what you’re unconsciously telling your children.

If a parent is unhappy, this will carry over and influence the happiness of your children. Put your best foot forward in life, no matter what happens, and they’ll follow your lead!

Corballis, M.C. (2002). From hand to mouth: The origins of language. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Our body language and facial expressions are significant ways we communicate without even having to say a word.
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