Aspects of our verbal communications with our children (such as your tone of voice) definitely are important in connecting with your child, but non-verbal communication really take the cake when it comes to helping young children regulate their emotions. Believe it or not, young children (infants especially) are more aware of non-verbal communication and social cues than adults are. This has important implications for how we communicate with our children and how we support them through hard times and help them feel connected to us. Feeling connected to a nurturing adult helps children and babies to feel cared for, loved, calm, and happy! So, here are a few simple tips to help you connect with your baby or child without saying a word:
- Get down low
When a young child is feeling overwhelmed by big emotions, having a big person towering over them will not calm them down (no matter how friendly and caring that big person is). Squat down, sit on the floor or a low chair so that you are level with your child.
- It’s in the eyes
Once you are down low make eye contact with your child. Eye contact is a great way to help young children feel connected to you. While you attempt to sooth your child, maintaining eye contact will signal to your child that you are not just physically present with them through these hard times, but that you are emotionally present as well.
- Matching your face to your intention
Keeping our own faces calm and loving in the midst of a child’s emotional outburst can be a challenge. A distressed child can bring up emotions is us too! If you are softly telling your child that it will be okay and to take a deep breath while your face is anxious with eyes as big as saucers- your child will not calm down. Young children, when they feel connected to you, will begin to mirror your facial expressions. Maintain eye contact and soft yet concerned look on your face, show your child that you are okay and they can be too.
- The power of gentle touch
Something as simple as a gentle pat on the shoulder to express support can go a long way in strengthening your connection with your child in moments of emotional chaos. Softly rubbing your child’s back or forehead can send a strong message of love, support, and calmness to your child. However, sometimes in the heat of the moment your child may not want to be touched, and that’s okay too. What matters is that you are with them and that you make yourself available for comforting them. Maybe sit next to them on the floor and offer your lap, or let them know that you are ready for a hug whenever they are ready.
Small children do experience big emotions, and by staying emotionally and physically present with our children through these moments we build a deeper connection with them that transcends through good days and bad days.