There’s what you say and then how you say it

A special friend of mine sat across from me, her body was tense, voice trembling and face pale. Yet she insisted, “I’m fine.” Right, I thought. You don’t LOOK fine. And I found myself confused and unable to respond. Should I believe her when she said, “Fine.” Or should I respond to her obvious upset and probe deeper?

Children are as perceptive, if not more, of what is often unspoken. But they lack the cognitive skills to clearly identify when they’re receiving a mixed message. This causes confusion and hyper-arousal and can impact how a child responds to you. For example, if you gently tell your child to “Put your coat on” from across the room while straightening the couch pillows, she may not know you mean right now. If you stand solidly in front of her, looking directly at her face and deliver the message in the exact same, gentle voice she’ll know you mean business.

Focus on how you communicate with your child

  • Notice the nonverbal messages you are sending.
  • Use your body to back-up your words in a way that is firm yet non-threatening.
  • Catch yourself if you are gossiping or talking badly about another person in front of your child.
  • Notice if you cut her off with a curt tone of voice.

Avoiding mixed messages is direct proof to a sensitive child that they live in a loving household with clear expectations, which is the foundation to shift challenging behaviors. And as your awareness grows, you’ll find your communication in other areas of your life becomes clearer and better received. Children really are our best teachers!


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