Picking up on social cues

At a Glance: Helping Your Child Understand Body Language

By Kate Kelly

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Some kids with learning and attention issues have difficulty understanding body language. They may have trouble picking up on social cues in general. Or they may work so hard to follow what someone is saying that they miss the unspoken messages. Here are tips for teaching your child about body language.

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At a Glance: Helping Your Child Understand Body Language

People use more than words to convey their feelings. But kids with certain learning and attention issues don’t always realize that. If your child has trouble understanding body language, 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, stand with your hands on your hips. Explain the unspoken message behind each movement. “When someone is standing like this, it can mean that she’s losing patience. Or she’s 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 made him think the person felt that way. Saying things like “His face was red” or “His 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
A teacher could be crossing her arms because she’s “had enough.” Or she could just be cold. 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. He needs to factor in tone of voice and words to get the full meaning
of what someone is saying.
Graphic of At a Glance: Helping Your Child Understand Body Language
Graphic of At a Glance: Helping Your Child Understand Body Language

About the Author

Portrait of Kate Kelly

Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Mark Griffin

Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.

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