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How reading your child’s body language can help you parent better

Kids are dealing with a lot of change right now. Whether they’re in kindergarten or in college, their day-to-day experience has been greatly disrupted as a result of the current COVID-19 protocol in place in many states currently. Lisa Mitchell, Communications Expert & Founder of Power Body Language explains how these disruptions can take a toll on them, and understanding how their feelings show up in their body language can help you as a parent clue in and connect with them in a really meaningful way.  

1) Really watch and observe your child, and ask yourself:

What Looks The Same? 

Notice how your child is
showing up for the things that were a normal part of their routine prior to
this routine. Were they talkative at breakfast before? When did they have the
most energy? What activities brought them the most joy or excitement? Pay
attention to how they are physically and behaviorally “showing up” in
those times now, after having experienced so many changes. The things that look
similar or the nearly same are areas of adjustment that they have most likely
been unaffected by or are handling well.  

What Looks Different? 

If you’ve been watching and
observing and you’ve notices the times and activities where your child is
showing up fairly “business as usual” you will also begin to notice
when there is a difference or variance in how they physically and behaviorally
show up in those times compared to how they behaved or physically presented prior
to experiencing this change in routine. That’s really the gold that comes from
paying attention. 

2) Look for “red flags”:

Watching and understanding the
body language cues that your child is displaying can help you know what things
you should be talking about and providing support around and your child
navigates change and disruption to their routine. 

There is a whole set of “negative non-verbal cues” that indicate discomfort, fear, or avoidance. Here a few to look for with your child that can help you know where to start your conversations: 

Withdrawn or “shrunk
in” body posture:
Is your usually open and fully expressive child now keeping
his/her head down, shoulders rolled forward, avoiding eye contact and sitting
quietly at breakfast? This may indicate that they are feeling insecure,
uncertain, or unsafe/overwhelmed with what they are experiencing now.

Exhibits aggressive mannerisms
or behavior:

Look for clenched fists or a clenched jaw, taking a step forward in a
confrontational manner when trying to resolve conflict, or even physical
contact such as pushing, shoving, or threatening. These cues indicate
frustration or anger is the driver or internal feelings and tell you that your
child may be acting out due to fear, overwhelm, or uncertainty. 

Expresses “fake happiness”: Some kids will exhibit cues of “fake happiness” such as a false or forced smile or trying to act like nothing has changed at all and everything is fine. Genuine smiles are to celebrated, but a forced or fake smile is a warning sign that they are outwardly expressing something that they don’t internally feel. Your job is to notice the difference between the two and if you notice the fake or forced smile, take the time to ask how they’re feeling and what specifically they are feeling happy about and if they might be feeling something other than happy at that moment. 

You don’t want to be
suspicious, but you also don’t want to miss a cue that indicates they are
hiding feelings or don’t feel safe to express themselves.  

Being clued into your child’s body language helps give you the data you need as a parent to be proactive in helping them manage the change and uncertainty that they are experiencing right now.

Visit or connect on Instagram at @lisamitchellindy.