When my wife, Maggie, and I go out to eat, I frequently take notice of how many patrons are on their cell phones in the restaurant. Guess. Give up? Try as many as 70% of the tables in the restaurant have at least one person on their cell phone. I’ve seen whole families at a table, each on a cell phone! Whoa! Actually, I should be glad the family is eating together. Back in the day, families ate on average 17 of 21 meals together per week. Now? Try 3-4 shared meals together. Verbally, we may talk about having a meal together, but nonverbally? Not so much.
In relationship building, verbal communication gets all the press. Nonverbal communication is often seen merely as the backdrop for verbal communication. However, each is vital and instrumental in creating emotionally healthy relationships. To be on the same page with your child, what you say and what you do should match.
Missy comes up to her dad in his home office, where he is paying bills. “Daddy, got a sec?” she asks. “Sure, hon. What’s on your mind?” he responds without moving or looking toward her. “Oh, never mind,” Missy sighs. “I’ll see if Mama can help me,” she looks down, sighs, and shuffles away. “Uh huh, okay, dear, you do that,” Dad absent-mindedly comments without his eyes or attention moving from the bills. Then he adds insult to injury by stating, “Glad I could help.” Missy would be heartbroken, but she never really expected her dad to help her.
Ouch! Dad’s verbals were inviting, engaging, anticipating. His nonverbals were distracting, distancing, and demeaning. Missy has learned not to go to her dad with needs, but she desperately wants his attention, so she keeps hoping, maybe this time…
Mom is putting the finishing touches on supper and sees her son, Jake, playing with neighborhood kids outside. “Time to come in, Jake, and get ready for supper,” she calls out the kitchen window. “Okay, Mom,” Jake dutifully responds. Mom gets busy with the meal. Jake’s not inside after ten minutes and she looks out again, but he is nowhere in sight. She swallows a frustrated, “that boy…” and then calls the mother of Jake’s best friend. After locating, scolding and threatening him, she hangs up the phone. When Jake gets home ten minutes later, she gives him his meal to eat in his bedroom as punishment for blowing her off. He half-heartedly protests, but takes his meal to his room. While eating, he turns on his TV, pulls out his phone, and texts his friends about the show on TV.
Jake's words and actions are same ol’ same ol’ for him. They don’t match. Words and actions need to match for a relationship to be healthy. Do yours?