In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, chapter 1 is titled “Communication Is Relationship.” A corollary to this statement is my belief that you cannot not communicate. Children, teens, parents, families are always communicating with each other, if not verbally, then nonverbally.
Mike’s dad asked him to help him wash the car. He was gaming on his bed in his room early in the afternoon on a beautiful day. Mike looked up from his game toward his father, but with only a blank stare. Was he responding to his dad’s direct request? You betcha. His nonverbal communication either said “I didn’t hear you,” or, “I don’t want to hear you.” His hope, I’m sure, was that dad would just go away.
Bethany’s mom was talking on the phone to one of her friends, when she toddled over to the kitchen counter and began tugging on her mama’s pants leg. Mom shook her leg free and turned in her chair as she continued her phone call. Were mom and daughter communicating? Oh, yeah, however unhelpful their nonverbals were to each other. Bethany was saying with her tug, “Mama, I need some attention.” Mom’s response was, “Go away. Leave me alone. Can’t you see that I’m on the phone? My conversation with my friend is more important than you are right now.”
When your child’s nonverbal communication is vague, indirect, or confusing, help them with a prompt like, “Sweetheart, I’m confused. Can you use your words?” If the behavior is intense or suggests distress, it will trigger your emotional fever alarm and you want to use your active listening skills. “Wow. You really slammed down that book. Are you frustrated?” Once her feelings are acknowledged, she will be more receptive to your correcting her behavior.
We are always communicating, whether it’s verbally, nonverbally, or even both. Teachable moments come from tuning in, decoding, and understanding the underlying feelings.