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Read Kids' Body Language

Staff Member
Read Kids' Body Language - January 25, 2006

Not quite annually I've launched the New Year with a column of quotes from kids. People always seem to enjoy the expressive and wonderful things kids say, and it's an easy way to put a column to bed before I go home to enjoy my Christmas holidays.

But this year there's a new twist. Experts say that as much as 65-93 percent of what we communicate comes from our body language, facial expression and gestures (Ray Birdwhistell, Knapp, 1972 and Albert Mehrabian, 1971). And that is also true of these comments and stories from and about children. So rather than just laughing at or enjoying these zingers, the purpose is to help you get in closer touch with any children in your life by carefully observing all of the body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures of your little ones.

The beauty of this focus is that it also serves to make a child feel more listened to, appreciated and loved. You have to put down your newspaper, or your mixing bowl, and look at your child. Full attention to another human is one of the higher compliments we can pay them; it makes others feel important, like they really matter. Aren't these all messages that you want to impart to the children around you?

You especially need to envision this first one. I watched a kid at a McDonald's turn to the adults at his table, get down off his seat and say, motioning with his pointy finger, "You stay right there. I'll be right back!!" before walking to the trash can. I'm sure he'd been told the same thing many times.

For this story imagine a Sunday school class of children grades three through five. Fifth graders are at the age when they give you those embarrassing talks at school on "growing up" and concerning the ways in which bodies change. Third graders, well, they probably haven't gotten those talks yet. Now imagine a Sunday school teacher (me) who hadn't read through the day's text in the scripture version that was used in the classroom, which put things in very plain language. A third grader volunteered to read the text, which was about Abram and Sarai (before their name changes) being promised the birth of a baby in their old age. In Today's English Version, it says "Abraham and Sarah were very old, and Sarah had stopped having her monthly periods."

Adam read this line and the girls started tittering. Then he read the next sentence: "Now that I am old and worn out, can I still enjoy sex?" (Genesis 18:11-12)

With that, the girls broke out in full blown giggles. The third grade boy glared. "What's so funny?" he asked. "What's funny about that?" Again, you have to know the kids, and I think he thought they were laughing at him instead of the text. I always felt the real joke was on me, and now I always make sure I read the text in whatever version the kids are going to be reading it.

Finally, John Kollaer sent this true story about his now-seventeen-year-old in response to my column about "letting go" when kids grow up and get married.
"This story happened when she was about nine years old. We went bowling with the church at a family day event. She had never bowled, so I would go up with her, surround her with my arms, and help her with her delivery. She was having so much fun, and actually was catching on very quickly.

After about six or seven frames, as her turn was drawing near, she looked up at me and said, 'Daddy, I don't think I need your help any more. I can do it by myself.' Needless to say, my heart was crushed to hear her words. But part of me was so thankful she was able to realize she was capable of getting the ball down the lane by herself."

As we listen to them, watch our children grow up and interact with them, we will learn valuable lessons: how we sound to them, the things that seem to be perfectly clear to an adult but aren't to them, and how things look through a kid's eyes. And finally, we'll learn to let go, one painful bowling frame at a time.

Submitted by Melodie Davis from her weekly column ANOTHER WAY: www.thirdway.com