Our verbal and nonverbal cues can either put our child into a defensive mood or provide a calming domino effect. According to Steven Handel, a psychology journalist and self-improvement writer, “research suggests that nonverbal communication makes up over sixty to seventy percent of all that we communicate.” Communication is necessary, and at times, our actions speak louder than words.

Let’s take a look in the window of a family of four who is preparing for an evening at the recreation center. Mom has had a stressful day at work and is looking forward to a yoga session. Dad has also had a long day at work and is looking forward to taking his frustrations out during a strength training session. Their daughter loves basketball and can’t wait for practice. Their son, spending the day at daycare, listening to a teething baby is yearning for affection with his parents.

Prior to going to the gym here’s what things were like. The family arrived home, in a rush to eat dinner and get to the gym. Mom is cooking dinner while dad is outside, mowing the lawn. Their daughter is searching for her basketball shoes. Their son is whining in the kitchen tugging on mom’s leg asking why they have to go to the gym. Mom out of frustration and in a hurry to finish cooking dinner sends her son to his room.

As the family sits around the dinner table, dad is speaking comments like “hurry up we have only 10 minutes.” Their son continues to ask “Why do we have to go?” He gets sent to his room, missed dinner, and his question is unanswered.

Having arrived at the recreation center, their daughter immediately rushes off to basketball practice, while mom and dad sign their son into daycare. During the sign-in process their son has a temper tantrum and screams “I don’t want to be here, I want to go home!” Because of his tantrum, daycare refuses to watch him.

This unforeseen misfortune leaves mom, dad and their son all sitting in the gym waiting for basketball practice to finish. A frustrated mom and dad are left looking at their phones unable to unwind from a hectic day. Their son asks if he can have a snack, and a new argument arises between the three.

Mom, staring at her phone responds “I didn’t make it to yoga, because of you.” Dad, who is also staring at his phone, responds “when we get home you are going straight to bed.” Their son, looking at his parents with his head tilted to the side, responds “but I’m hungry.” Mom snaps back with “too bad, you should have thought about that before your little tantrum.” She never looks up.

As they continue to argue, their son begins to cry and switches from tugging on mom’s leg to hugging his dad’s arm. Both parents continue to look at their phones as they verbally abuse their son. They are clearly oblivious to what is happening. Their son, once again in trouble, has to sit in the corner for the rest of their daughters practice.

Once they’ve arrived home, their son goes straight to bed, still hungry.

What can we learn about this evening?

During the evening their son gave several verbal and nonverbal communication cues, but because both parents were attempting to avoid the situation, their son went to bed confused, hungry and still yearning for affection. This is an example of parental leadership gone terribly wrong.

Our posture imitates our frame of mind. A closed body stance is less inviting to social interaction while, an open body stance is welcoming. Children pick up on this indication and respond accordingly. In the example above, both parents had a closed body stance, and their son reacted with a whiny, defensive attitude. If the parents had exhibited an open body stance, their son would have responded differently.

Gestures are recognized when complete attention is given. When their son looks at his parents with a tilted head to their response, both parents missed it. A nonverbal gesture both parents gave to their son is that phones are more important. L.R. Knost, a best-selling parenting and children’s book author, believes “… the reason teens isolate themselves when they’re overwhelmed … is because when they’re toddlers we [parents] isolate them when they’re overwhelmed instead of helping with their problems.”

Facial expressions convey the emotions we feel at that moment. Expressions happen quickly and learning to recognize them, can reveal what a person is thinking and feeling. Both parents should have observed their son’s facial expression that could have helped avoid these unnecessary misunderstandings.

When the son was tugging on his mom’s leg and hugging his dad’s arm, this nonverbal communication is known as touch. Individuals crave touch to feel comfort. A warning the parents missed, is their sons tugging attempt to get his parents to look him in the eye. Eye contact is the way we establish if a person is paying attention.

Their son was spoken to in an angry voice that caused him to react with a pleading tone of voice. Verbal abuse comes in many forms from angry outbursts to quiet comments. Nonverbal communication includes behaviors such as our posture, facial expressions, gestures, touch, eye contact and tone of voice. Trusting a person can be distinguished from nonverbal communication. To avoid situations like the example above, parents must learn to communicate effectively with listening ears, watchful eyes and a high healthy tone of voice.
I’ve witnessed smartphones becoming an avoidance approach to parenting.

Thirty minutes per day of uninterrupted, undivided attention to a child will fulfill the importance of a child’s belonging to the family. Restructure your schedule, if you don’t have thirty minutes to give your child. If both parents had given thirty minutes to their son with complete attention, they would have picked up on his verbal and nonverbal communication cues and proceeded accordingly.

A good friend of mine, John Page Burton, states, “our body language is often in direct conflict with what we are saying verbally. Body language and speech have to be in alignment.” Nonverbal communication happens unconsciously and leaves an impression that can last a lifetime. Children thrive when they feel understood.


Crystal Horton is the author of “Stretch Marks, A Mother’s Journey To Awareness.”

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Steven Handel, The Emotion Machine
Blog Article “How to Become a Master of Nonverbal Communication.”

L.R.Knost – Award-Winning, International Best-Selling Author; Founder & Director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources

John Page Burton, Coach, mentor, strategist and Author of Knowing Sh#t from Shinola bestselling Author of Knowing Sh#t from Shinola and bestselling author of Wisdom Through Failure