Nonverbal Communication with Kids and Teens

Maria Sotolongo has a degree in Communications and worked in television more than fifteen years. She is now a full-time mom and blogs about the mushy, messy, magical moments of motherhood at www.mariasotolongo.com

We are only speaking Spanish to our two-and-a half-year-old daughter, she’s learning English on her own. It’s quite amazing how her mind understands the two languages. And we’ve recently discovered that she’s also becoming an expert in the art of nonverbal communication, which is a language of its own.

Like undercover FBI agents, my husband and I can usually communicate with a hand gesture, a stern glance or simply a nod of the head. We have ways of speaking without using words. But we also have habits we didn’t know we had until we got married 14 years ago. Now, though, our daughter is imitating everything we do, so we realize how important our nonverbal communication has become.

After lunch the other day, she turned to me and said, “Look Mami, like Papi”. She went on to stick her tongue out and then back in, moving it around her teeth. This is what my husband does after eating, to get food out of his teeth! Not one of his best qualities. But I laughed out loud and couldn’t believe she’d noticed him doing that.

My sister has a twelve-year-old, and I see how her son observes us. Whether we’re having a conversation, serving ourselves more wine, or sitting down watching TV. There he is, making notes. Saving what he finds interesting, and discarding what he doesn’t approve of. They might be 10 years apart, but my daughter and her cousin are similar when it comes to nonverbal communication. They study gestures and expressions and apply them to their own lives.

Truth is, our kids know more than we think. They’re little reporters, picking things up and writing them down in their memory bank. Makes me think what she’s storing in her mind as things that are ok to do because she sees us do them.

Think about it, the large majority of their first year of life, we communicate through touch, sounds, eye contact, and other nonverbal methods. Then, we start teaching them how to high-five, give a thumbs up or a fist pump, show us how old they are, and to blow a kiss when we ask them. As they get older, and into the teenage years, what do they learn from us by just watching our actions?

The other night, we were reading our daughter a book before bed. She interrupted us, grabbed my husband’s face with both hands, and leaned in to kiss him. Nearly brough us both to tears.  The sweetest way of communicating. She was imitating one of Papi’s best qualities, how to show affection.

Maria Sotolongo has a degree in Communications and worked in television more than fifteen years. She is now a full-time mom and blogs about the mushy, messy, magical moments of motherhood at www.mariasotolongo.com

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