This is one language that requires nothing more than employing our powers of observation and perception. Your child will use this language every day of their life. Spend some time this summer teaching your kids the intricacies of body language.
Why is it important?
In their acclaimed book about body language, authors Barbara and Allan Pease offer some interesting statistics. In communication, words are about 7 per cent of communication. An additional 38 per cent is vocal but non verbal like whistling. That leaves over 50 per cent of our day to day communication to be nonverbal.
That alone is a good reason for your child to learn how to read body language. It's also particularly important because communication is being challenged every day by the shield of technology. Drawing attention to body language engages your child in something more than a phone screen.
Begin at the beginning
You can start with the obvious. A smile, a frown and scowl are easily interpreted. But what of more subtle messaging? Make it a game when you go out together. Without staring impolitely, try to determine the mood of the people on the street by observing them. The key is to assess with a quick overall observation.
Do they hold their head high? Do they nod in warmth as a polite passerby? Or do they avoid your glance? Is the face guarded or open?
We can learn a lot by looking into someone's eyes. Are they bright and warm or clouded and dark? Even our pupils convey messages when they involuntarily dilate as a reaction to romantic interest.
As we move further than facial features, arms crossed is but one element of our torso "speaking." We might lean in or step out of our comfort zone or put hands on our hips in defiance or exasperation.
Lessons Are Everywhere
Check out people at a bus stop or subway station. Leg stance can show aggression when legs are apart, or submission when legs are close together. Look at a group of people standing together and see what their legs tells you about each of them. As well, we can stomp our feet in frustration, tap them in agitation and skip along when we are happy.
Consider this: have some fun together watching old silent movies. They relied heavily on body language to convey messages to the audience. The lesson is not limited to silent movies because every movie has body language lessons. Use movies as teachable moments for learning various body language signals.
To learn body language we need good observational skills, that ability to assess at a glance. Exceptional people watching places include coffee shops, restaurants or a mall food court which all offer great body language conversation starters. Look for signs of interest or disinterest with couples. Are they leaning into each other, perhaps holding hands, or are their arms crossed? Does their facial expression denote happiness, sadness or indifference?
The arrangement of people round a table also tells much about the group. Is there one sitting off to one side? Is there a group within the group that seems friendlier? Check out hand gestures as another indicator. Are they expansive which might denote a security within the group?
Perception is described as awareness of something through our senses and we get body language messaging beyond the visual. We feel the pressure of a handshake: limp, warm or did they pull it forcefully toward them as a power ploy? Touch can reveal a tenderness and comfort or a tenseness. You can feel sincerity in someone's hugs. The timbre of a voice has many different nuances to its message. We can all remember our Mother calling us and instinctively knowing her mood.
There's Always A Political Angle
Being aware of body language can help determine incongruities in a person. An over the top example would be Disney's cartoon villain Cruella de Vil. Arms thrust wide and a big broad smile illustrate body language hiding sinister plans for those sweet little Dalmatians.
In real life can we find examples of the same anomaly? Ironically, most politicians have body language consultants to help them convey sincerity. It's quite perplexing to consider that politicians need to be told how to look sincere.
Body Language Skills Are Useful
There is much to body language from the subtle to the overt. Like any skill it needs practice to develop the necessary powers of observation. The lessons are there at home, at school and at play.
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Not only is it helpful dealing with friends, but your child can apply it when doing class or school presentations. They can determine the audience engagement by their body language. Do they lean in with interest? Further down life's road, they will use body language skills to more carefully read various situations including job interviews, interactions in daily work life and their social activities.
This is one summer activity that the whole family can share.
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