Children are sponges for what lies ahead of them. They soak up all that they hear and feel, which in turn creates a burden that they aren’t familiar with. Think of it like a terrible song that you hear in an elevator. As you leave it you are humming (potentially to the benefit of whomever you are walking next to) this song that you remember but not well enough to remember the words or title of. Now, think of that same process but with the noise of parental or adult language.
It’s not enough to just consider the audience to whom we are talking to, but must also take into consideration how we say it. In an article published out of West Point, the observation was made that although we, as parents and educators, have a strong understanding of the effect that non-verbal communication may have on children and yet at the same time look for a sign of praise or receiving of information from our children and students? It is one thing for children to demonstrate traditional non-verbal clues that resonate praise and acceptance, and yet what if they fail to do so? Non-traditional nonverbal behavior or communication can also be a learned behavior, like a wink or an eye roll. However, the question remains, can they be a sign that there is something deeper, stronger manifesting subconsciously?
My father was a huge Patton fan. He once told me that Patton practiced his brave face in the mirror to show bravery and strength in the line of enemies, so I often like to think of non-verbal behavior like a student’s subconscious mirror. Although I am seeing a variety of actions and behaviors, what feelings or train of subconscious thoughts led them to get there?
The road to understanding or deciphering non-verbal behavior is certainly culturally specific, but it doesn’t have to be specific to a culture. As I have said before, it often is their version of normal, which in this case is their own created culture. There is no ideal set of non-verbal behaviors that are universally acceptable or desired. What we want, what anyone wants for their children, is to be understood , both verbally and emotionally. Enter the world of social emotional learning. If we learn to strengthen our thoughts of how we learn and how we feel, like any good muscle needing to grow stronger, than aren’t we creating a face that is more reflective of what we are feeling?
I am sure Patton wasn’t always feeling brave and gallant when he woke up everyone, but I know that children aren’t fine every single time they respond to an adult’s question. Isn’t it time we allow them opportunities to strengthen these muscles?