Communication skills are more than just verbal, and moreover, these skills can be taught! According to Psychologists Declerck and Bogaert, “the evidence is accumulating: good social skills may depend on the ability to decipher facial expressions.”
We have learned that when teaching children good communication skills, a critical component of this social education is teaching them how to interpret body clues. In one study, researchers gave elementary school children training in the identification and self-production of facial expressions. After only six half-hour sessions, these children improved their ability to read emotions compared with the controls (Grinspan et al, 2003).
The ability to read a peer’s body clues provides a child with the aptitude to develop empathetic responses to someone that may appear to be sad, scared or lonely. Additionally, developing this skill can enhance a child’s capacity to cultivate friendships.
Here are some strategies that can help you teach your children to read body clues:
- Look in a mirror together and express different emotions. Draw attention to the eyebrows, the shape of the eyes and mouth.
- Role change. Ask your child to demonstrate how you look when you are mad, sad or frustrated.
- When you are reading a book or magazine, ask your child to tell you how the person in the picture is feeling.
- Point out their body clues. “I can tell you are disappointed because your arms are crossed, your eyebrows are down and you are frowning.”
- Take pictures of your child with different facial expressions and make a storybook together.
Body clues can also indicate if a person is listening to us. We can teach our children that when a person is ready to listen, he will look at you and his body will be calm. You can model this behaviour and use these skills in your interaction with your children. If you are in conversation with someone and a child interrupts you, you can remind them: “You will know that I am ready to listen to you when I stop talking and turn to look at you.”