The way we present ourselves to others, through the way we hold and move our bodies, is known as body language and, together with the tone of our voices, gives many signals about who were are and how we expect to be treated. These non-verbal messages are subconsciously picked up and interpreted by the person we are talking to, who then uses them as a base for his or her attitude and behaviour towards us. If we are positive, then our body language gives this off in hundreds of subtle signals that others subconsciously pick up and react to.
Some studies have suggested that non-verbal communication i.e. body language accounts for 55 per cent of our communication, with tone of voice making up 38 per cent, and words a mere seven per cent. Children (and adults) read these non-verbal signs and act accordingly, and your expectations are met in what is known as a self fulfilling prophecy. This is why if we are feeling positive about a particular outcome in a given situation the outcome is likely to be positive: we give off many subtle, non-verbal signals that we are expecting to achieve what we want. The reverse is also true, and it applies to adults and children.
Body language and dealing with challenging behaviour
Body language has been found to be important when it comes to dealing with children’s challenging behaviour. Take a few minutes to analyse the way you present yourself to your child. This will in effect be the way he or she perceives you. When dealing with challenging behaviour, would you take yourself seriously and do as you asked if the roles were reversed and you were the child? Are you giving off the right signals? Confident, authoritative (but not threatening), and that you expect to be taken notice of and adhered to. If the answer is no, or unlikely, then you need to consciously change the way you present yourself, so that you send message you want. Draw back your shoulders so that you are holding yourself upright, make eye contact, take a deep breath and then in a calm, even and firm voice tell the child what it is you want them to do or stop doing.
Your body language needs to give the clear message that you expect what you say to be taken seriously and acted on, and failure to do so (in a reasonable time) will result in a sanction. If the child doesn’t respond, then maintain your stance and repeat your request, then reaffirm with the sanction if necessary. (Further details on this technique can be found in my book Happy Kids). After a while of consciously doing this it will become second nature, so that whenever you are faced with confrontational behaviour you will automatically become your authoritative self. Look upon it a bit like acting on stage – you are playing the part of the ‘stern’ parent; teachers do it all the time to maintain control of a class. When you are playing with your child, and for most other times, you will obviously be your usual warm and loving self, but for disciplining you need to be a figure of authority to whom the child responds.