My son is very physical, as are most 17 month old children. In this season of life, my son primarily communicates through his actions. Kind touches heal him, and hand smacks or spankings are horrible. I’m sure, as with many children, this is not going to last forever as he learns more language, but it will always stick with him. Most people do not realize how powerful nonverbal language is. Nonverbal communication is 90% of how people communicate, as taught by many of my college professors. When our parents or spouses say “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it,” they are reminding us of the importance of our physical stature, facial expressions, and the inflection or tone used in our speech.
My daughter is most physically communicative when she is experiencing intense emotions. While most of us over the age of three have learned to control our bodies during emotional outbursts, my new preschooler struggles with putting language to her big feelings. Hitting, Kicking, and sometimes biting, are natural reactions that signal parents of their child’s emotional state. We also learn of her deepest affections through snuggles, hugs, and sweet little kisses strictly reserved for her most loved family. A big hug and kiss in the morning start her off in a great mood, inviting her to bond with us and prioritize before the day gets started. As she learns more language, she will find new ways to express herself. Writing, singing, and specific adjectives are very helpful in processing emotions in a healthy way.
Often times, we need to correct the behavior before we discuss the emotions to help our child learn how to verbally express the way they are feeling and processing a situation. But what if we were sensitive enough to prevent some outbursts with a simple touch? How freeing would it be to stop these events before they happen? This is maturity in our children, and it does take time. A lot of time. Which will require patience. A lot of patience. However, we might be able to find an extra ounce of peace and freedom for our household, which is the source of hope in a household with two toddlers.
To this day, I am still a physical communicator. Hugs, kisses, and snuggles are highly reserved and personal moments I only seek from a select few people. My husband sees these moments more than anybody else, and I see the stark contrast in our nonverbal needs. Actions and inflection are incredibly meaningful to him, while he only desires the occasional hug.
As I think of my sickly children over the past week and a half, I am encouraged by how helpful nonverbal communication is to them. Tending to their needs and providing a much needed physical reminder of my care and help has turned dreadful moments into memories. While sick children up the stress in any home, it also simplifies and resets certain behaviors. Priorities are made clear and habits change to fit them. A different environment can unlock new perspectives in anybody’s life.
The following five behaviors have been helpful to my children at their most frustrated moments.
- Firm Hug – Shows safety in the midst of pain
- Hand Squeeze – Reminds them of your support during a big step, physical or otherwise
- The Mom Chair (when the little one crawls up on your lap and leans back against your chest and tummy) – Invites rest during a hard day
- Face to Face (noses, foreheads, butterfly kisses, and cheeks) – Accepts and loves during the booger flood, or whatever negative emotions they are expressing
- Forehead Kiss – A reminder of how precious they are
Without having to explain or rationalize to my children, I can communicate a deep trust and a calm spirit in the midst of difficult moments like sickness. As I ponder how such little actions express valuable information, I cannot help but think of how we, as Christians, interact with other hurting people. Often times, we feel as if we must say the right thing. While this desire is not bad, and can certainly help encourage or reaffirm God’s truth, the power of nonverbal communication is revitalizing to a hurt spirit. I am challenged by the simplicity of a hug given by the right person at the right time. Nonverbal interactions have a depth of healing words struggle to represent. It requires a shift in our thinking and our initial reactions to respond without words attached. The hardest moments are the ones most blessed by a physical touch or an action.
The way in which our verbal communication affects our relationship with God is far more difficult to process. The facial cues, body language, and spatial communication are nearly gone when we listen to God. While we still find some of these cues from other believers when God has given them a word for us, our prayer time and scripture readings are completely without nonverbal cues. How can we learn to interpret God’s spirit with the same depth?
Submission and Maturity
Physical submission, like folding you hands and bowing your head, are regular practices for many. While these habits can become mindless and, therefore, useless, they are rooted in great understanding. Physically preparing yourself to speak with God and listen to His response can be especially difficult in a distracting world. Satan would love for you to talk to God and never listen to His response or directions. It takes practice to physically submit yourself. You might need to try new environments or change from sitting to laying down. My experience, while short, has shown me the importance of quieting my spirit and hushing my mind to listen well. It is hard to hear a quiet voice when your children are screaming. I have tried.
Maturity comes through perseverance. The more I am quiet, the more I hear God, the more I see His affirmations, the more I can remember His voice. Our relationship is constantly growing and changing, with the goal of maturation. Teaching, especially in parenting, has a unique way of thrusting us into maturity. It helps us find Christ in everything around us. I can look at His physical blessings, creation, and the spirit at work in others for the nonverbal reminders that God loves me and will help me, even on my toughest days. Or in our sick household.
Prayer And Compassion
The only way I was able to become mindful of the impact my physical interactions have on my children was through constant prayer and a deep compassion. Yet, isn’t this the model Christ shows? A deeper connection to God paired with compassion is the way Christ drew nearer to us. By these habitual moments, we can love God and love others.
The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!”
When life is overwhelming, it helps to simplify to these two commandments set by Christ. Our calling always starts there, and our lives are changed by these two phrases. If I want to change the way I interact with my children, then it can only start by loving God and loving others. This cycles back into loving God and others even more. One of the simplest ways to love our children is also the deepest: physically showing them. And in this, we hope they might catch a glimpse of how deep God’s love for them is.