Communicating with Your Child --  (cool) progeny

How many different ways can you say the word “No?”

1. No (I’d rather not, thank you.)
2. NO! (and quit asking!)
3. No… (I’m on the fence…)
4. No (but you’re getting warmer…)
5. No (with raised eyebrows- are you looking to challenge me?)

I’m sure that if you tried, you could come up with a dozen more ways to say this one word. This post is not about how to say ‘no’ though. Indeed, it is actually going to show us that the word or words that we say aren’t nearly as important as how we say them.

With that hint in mind, if you had to guess, what would you say is the most important part of verbal communication: tone of voice, body language or words?

Here is the communication breakdown:

Most important: Body Language
Next important: Tone of Voice
“Least” important: Words

While there are limitations to the study done by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, his findings apply to direct communication between 2 people about their likes and dislikes. When we are talking to kids about what we like and dislike about their behavior, we can extrapolate his findings to our circumstances a bit.

So what good does this knowledge do us?

It can make us pause and think about how we’re saying something instead of just what we’re saying. If we’re telling our child that we’re listening to them, but aren’t facing them or are doing a few other things at the same time, what message are we actually sending? Is it different than the one that we are saying? I don’t have time for you. Your thoughts aren’t important enough for me to stop what I’m doing.

If we’re asking our child to stop running around the house in a quiet, tenuous tone of voice, what message are we sending then? Stop running please, but don’t worry, it’s only a suggestion, not a real request. Nothing will happen if you disregard what I say.

If we’re saying “I love you” but there seems to be a ‘but’ that remained unsaid at the end, what message are we sending? My love is conditional. If you do something that displeases me, it’s not guaranteed that I will still love you.

Everyone has had experience with words and messages being incongruous. Being cognizant of the importance of non-verbals will not alleviate all possibilities of being misunderstood or undermining our own messages, but it may help us listen to ourselves with new ears and hear better the messages that we’re sending out into the world and especially to our children.