People use more than words to convey their feelings. But kids don’t always realize that. If your child has trouble understanding body language or social cues in general, there are things you can do to help.
Match the movement to the message.
Show your child how different body movements can convey clear and specific emotion. Tap your fingers, shrug your shoulders, fidget, and stand with your hands on your hips. Explain the unspoken message behind each movement. “When someone is standing like this, it can mean that they’re losing patience. Or they’re upset by what you’re saying.”
Point out examples.
You can bring the concept of body language to life by noticing how people — both in real life and on TV — are interacting. (If you’re watching TV together, you can even turn the sound off.) Help your child spot clues that indicate how each person is feeling. Ask what clues implied that the person felt that way. Saying things like “The man’s face was red” or “The girl’s fists were clenched” gives your child a verbal anchor to remember the visual cue.
Play body-language charades.
Acting out emotions through body language helps kids see the connection between the two. Make a game of it, and invite the whole family to play. On index cards, write different emotions (one per card). These could include happy, sad, angry, tired, and so on. Take turns drawing a card and acting out the emotion while the rest of the group tries to guess what it is.
Don’t get too literal.
Teachers might cross their arms because they’ve “had enough.” Or they just might not be very warm. A classmate could be clasping his hands behind his neck because he’s bored with the conversation. Or he could simply be stretching.
Explain to your child that body movements and gestures alone don’t convey the whole picture. Your child needs to factor in tone of voice and words to get the full meaning of what someone is saying.
There are lots of things you can do to help your child with social skills. You can watch a video on how watching TV can help your child learn social skills. And explore tips on how to help your child read facial expressions, understand personal space, and pick up on changes in tone of voice.
About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.