Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Tips for more Positive Parenting Skills


Learn about the role of non-verbal cues in communication and types like body language. Find help to work on improving your verbal and nonverbal communication skills, tips and research articles.


Parents are usually aware of the importance of good communication skills. What's often forgotten is the fact, that a great deal of what's said, isn't said through words but instead nonverbally. Sometimes 80-100% of a conversation can happen nonverbally. So if you want to learn how to talk to kids you shouldn't miss improving both your verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

contradicting verbal and nonverbal communication

You can find more communication pictures here

The role of “Non-Verbal” Cues in Communication

Improving you communication skills requires looking at the relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication. A nonverbal sign that’s totally appropriate in one situation can make another situation feel awkward and stop any conversation. The key is to find out how the nonverbal cues relate to the spoken words used.

They can complement each other or
substitute each other;
nonverbal cues can accentuate the spoken words or
substitute them;
But words and nonverbal messages can  contradict each other too.

Whether you do that consciously or you don't realize it's happening, contradiction between verbal and nonverbal communication can lead to :

  • Irritation or
  • confusion or even
  • Mistrust
  • Paying attention to those contradictions is also a way to uncover lies

Start improving your skills by having a good look at both, your verbal and nonverbal communication, to uncover those contradicting messages. The following types will give you an idea where to look.

Types of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication can happen on many different levels. The main areas are:

Body language which includes:
  • posture or the way you stand, sit, hold your head, your shoulders, your arms, ...
  • gestures - those little movements you make with your arms and hands or even with your head; pointing at things, scratching your head, clapping your hands and opening them again to invite your child to come to you, ...
  • facial expressions - the inviting smile, a disapproving stern look, a tired blank stare, ...
  • eye contact – you know how annoying it can be to talk to someone who looks at everything but at you. You’re never sure whether he actually listens to you or not.

Speech elements:
  • loudness and pitch,
  • intonation (lively or monoton?)
  • tone of voice and inflection, ...

Touch – the hug, tap on your shoulder, holding a hand. Is it done softly and gently? Or is it more forceful to hold you back?

Interpersonal space – How much space do you need to be around you to feel comfortable? Who can come closer? Signs for lacking space can include rocking, leg swinging, tapping and gaze aversion.

Objects: you communicate even through things like your clothing and hair style. What do they say about you?

Time: Do you spend a lot of time with your kids (doing activities together or having fun conversations) or does the day seem too short to actually have time for them? This tells them a lot about your interest and affection.

Knowing about those types often is enough to become aware of some unconscious nonverbal expressions that might confuse or turn off your listeners.

Nonverbal Communication Tips
for improving your verbal and nonverbal communication as a whole

1. Match your feelings with your words
I think this is the most important tip. Nonverbal language is so complex, that concentrating on improving one or two cues only, often doesn't help. Most of it happens unconsciously as well. In this article you'll find examples and strategies on how to match your verbal and nonverbal communication.

2. Watch your child’s reactions
They’ll give youWhat do they tell you about the way your children understood you?

3. Ask your kids about the nonverbal signs you see
That gives them feedback and / or the chance to confirm your impression or put you on the right track. It can also help them clarify their emotions.

4. Become aware of your own nonverbal signs
That is maybe the hardest to do as you usually don’t see yourself to notice all the details of your verbal and nonverbal communication. Try to make it a habit for certain situations and find ways to get feedback.

5. Practice - a lot
Did I mention a lot lot lot? No one is born with those skills. So practice and reflection makes all the difference.


Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Articles and Research on the subject:

Professor Albert Mehrabian's communications model gives a statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications regarding the expression of feelings and attitudes.

Children's Decoding of Emotion in Expressive Body Movement: The Development of Cue Attunement
A study by R. Thomas Boone and Joseph G. Cunningham of Brandeis University

Facial Actions During Face-to-Face Interaction Between Mother and Infant The Development of Cue Attunement
by Nadia Denis

"The Art of Perception" The Development of Cue Attunement
An article on how discovering nonverbal cues is taught to cops. What works for them could be a fun way to learn for parents and kids as well – exploring pictures.

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