What is Nonverbal Communication Anyway? What do I do if my child isn’t using it?
Does your child use more than one or two facial expressions? Does your child ever use gestures to help others understand him? Does your child use different tones of voice? Can your child control her vocal volume? Is your child able to orient to the person talking? Does your child understand personal space? If any of these questions sound familiar to you, your child may be experiencing difficulty with nonverbal communication.
Children that have difficulty with nonverbal language struggle with meaningful communication. They feel as if no one understands what they are trying to say, or are frustrated by the responses they receive. Children with nonverbal language delays can feel isolated, or be viewed as shy. The reactions they have to certain situations can seem disconnected or harsh, when in reality they may have appropriate feelings but incorrect facial expression or tone of voice. The child is not intentionally being inappropriate, but has difficulty using the correct nonverbal language. These struggles are real, and can lead to bigger problems.
Nonverbal language is made up of eight components, the first three of which receive the most focus. Difficulty with any one or more of these areas can make effective communication a struggle. If your child is experiencing difficulty in any of these components it may be time to seek professional support.
The three main components of nonverbal communication are:
- Facial Expression – Your face can convey a great deal of information about how you are feeling; but when your expression and the words you are saying don’t match, a lot of confusion can occur. Children that struggle with using the correct facial expression are often seen as rude or even naughty. For example: A child who says, “I’m sorry” with a big smile on their face may come across as being insincere.
- Gesture – The ability to communicate without saying a word can be very useful. Knowing when to use a gesture rather than or in addition to spoken words is important for effective communication. Children who are not skilled at using gestures can have difficulty with social norms. For example: Instead of waving at a friend across a crowded room, the child yells, “HELLO!”
- Paralinguistics – The ability to modulate tone of voice, pitch and loudness make for clear communication. When a child uses the wrong tone of voice or has difficulty with regulating volume, it can send the wrong message. For example: The parent asks the child to put on her shoes, and she replies in a very grumpy tone of voice, “OK.” This can make the parent upset and frustrated, when what the child really meant to communicate was “Okay, I can do that.”
The other types of nonverbal communication include body language, eye gaze, haptics (sense of touch), proxemics (personal space), and appearance. While each of these is also important, they tend to be used less frequently in the meaning-making process.
Nonverbal communication is complicated, and it can be difficult for young children to put all of the components together effectively. Nonverbal language begins to develop at birth, and continues developing throughout our lives. Young children require practice to become effective at using their nonverbal communication, but most children are fairly skilled at using it by age 2 or 3. If your child’s nonverbal communication is limited or ineffective beyond age three, it is time to look for professional assistance.
Written by: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP
To schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your child’s non-verbal communication difficulties, call (616) 698-0306 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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