The use of Non-Verbal Communication is very important when working with young children to improve speech and language, as well as help children become confident and independent communicators.
Very often, a goal of parents who bring their child to see a speech therapist is to help the child talk more, perhaps by talking in longer, fuller sentences, or by telling stories, or talking more socially to their peers. Although how the child expresses himself verbally is important to parents, I am also often focused on how the child communicates non-verbally, or without words.
I want to share with you the power of non-verbal communication and why tuning in to all of the non-verbal cues is a key component to building a child’s communication foundation that will foster better expressive skills later.
Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, body language, and even sounds made without words. In the child’s first year of birth the majority of his communication is nonverbal as the first word often arrives around the child’s first birthday. Therefore, the child tunes into and interprets the parents’ facial features, and tones of their voices, and their physical gestures. It’s how your child knows if you’re sad or mad or happy or proud and even learns to follow directions. The child also expresses himself by gestures before she uses words by reaching for things, pointing to objects, or by imitating parents clapping or smiling, and she even changes her vocal patterns to match her moods.
These nonverbal skills are key for successful play with peers during a playdate, on the playground, in the sandbox, and for later in the classroom when children realize what the teacher is doing give the message more than what she is saying. It’s how we tune into people and connect with them beyond what the words can offer.
So the next time you’re spending time with your young child try to not use words but communicate and see what behaviors are naturally evoked when the child tunes more into your facial expressions or your body movements. Spend time together more silently while playing with blocks, cooking together, playing ball, or dancing to music. You can point to request, shake your head to answer, reach your arms out or put your hand out to receive, or give a look of confusion or approval without words. You can even express a concept such as “yes” in multiple ways nonverbally such as nodding your head, giving a thumbs-up, smiling, or just doing what’s been requested.
Although talking with your child is a meaningful means to connect and teach the child about language, using and tuning into nonverbal cues often gives much more meaning to the message than the words themselves and is the foundation for successful and confident communication.