Shortly after writing "What Every Body is Saying," I was asked "What should I tell my children about body language and at what age should I start?" I had not followed up on this until recently when my third book on body language came out "Louder Than Words," and once again I was asked the same question.
I firmly believe that it is every parent's responsibility to socialize their children, that includes teaching them about our primary means of communication which is body language. Essential for interpersonal and business success, body language should be taught to children at an early age so that they can mature with a skill set that will enrich their personal and working lives.
Start to teach your children about body language as soon as they are capable of understanding your instruction (around age 2) and build from there. Use a good reference guide so that the children can see the behavior and you can both talk about it. Also make sure that the guide you use is based on science and not on anecdotal information.
Here are 10 things you can teach your child to help them develop social and interpersonal intelligence that will help them throughout their lives:
1. All nonverbal communication (body language) has meaning. Some you may not understand, nonetheless, it has meaning. In time I and your friends will teach you what different things mean.
2. Your brain controls all your physical movements as well as all the faces and gestures you make. You have control over your body and the kinds of messages that your body sends out. You need to be mindful of this in the same way that you have to watch what you say.
3. Your body language communicates all the emotions you feel, just as a baby communicates whether she is happy or not. It is evident for everyone to see. When you are happy and excited we can all see this by your smile, happy feet, and outstretched arms.
4. What your body says to me is more accurate than what you say and it speaks to me before you do. So always be aware that often we can tell what you are thinking or feeling before you speak.
5. You can get along better with friends if you read their body language because you'll be able to tell if they are happy or sad, mad or playful, quiet or excited. If you learn to read the body language of your friends, they will find great comfort in you because you care to know how they feel.
6. Just like words can hurt someone’s feelings, body language can do the same thing. When you roll your eyes at me or turn your back and walk away, it says, just as if you had shouted it, that you don’t care and don’t respect me.
7. You can use body language to let others know that you like them and care for them, without ever having to say a word. Just like when you hug me or hold my hand, I can tell you love me without having to say it.
8. When you want something, desire something, or seek something, your body speaks this very clearly. In the same way that when you want to leave or avoid someone, your body tells me how you feel. Your intentions are communicated by your body language also.
9. Some people are very sensitive to their body space and so when you get too close or sit too close they feel uncomfortable. Be aware that sometimes other children or adults need just a little bit more space.
10. If your own body ever feels uncomfortable around someone, please let me know when it happens so I can help you to understand why it is that you feel that way. And know this, because I know your brain is sensitive to your body, I will respect whatever it is that you feel when you say, “I don’t feel comfortable, especially when it is around someone else.”
For additional information please see the above noted books or write to me through www.jnforensics.com for a comprehensive bibliography on body language. Additionally Psychology Today posts on the subject can be located under Spycatcher or you can follow me on Twitter: @navarrotells. Additional information and training programs are available at www.jnforensics.com.