Researchers say approximately 90% of what other people “hear” from us is not what they hear, it is what they see. What they observe from our bodies and our faces when we talk with them is more telling than some of the words we say. The expression on our face when we share our disappointment or frustration can be interpreted as much deeper, negative messages. I have heard it from my own kids, and the many kids in my therapy room. My daughter will ask me, “Mommy, why are you mad?” And I turn to her, somewhat confused because I am not feeling mad…but apparently, I LOOK mad. I have had similar discussions with parents and kids in my therapy room. They accuse mom of yelling, while mom reports she doesn’t yell.
Their perception is their current reality.
You know that saying, Perception is reality? I think that fits with our kids, too. Sometimes we have to spend as much time hearing and correcting their perception, as well as the reality. So rather than immediately dismissing their perception, I encourage parents to ask their child – “What makes you think I am mad?” Without learning this, you can’t fully understand how they came to that perception.
Our face isn’t great at covering our stress or our fear
The truth is, kids are ultra perceptive. They pick up on all of the subtle cues that we think we are so good at hiding. Remember, they have many, many fewer things to worry about in their minds. This frees up lots of space for paying attention to all the small things that we don’t always have the mental space to realize.
So. That means our kids can see the stress and fear on our faces. Even if we have the best intentions to keep them in the dark about it.
Last year, my daughter had a gymnastics meet about 50 miles away. It was the middle of winter in Indiana and I thought I had allotted plenty of time for us to get to the meet. Unfortunately, I did not account for an interstate closure, impassible side roads, and the intolerance of her younger siblings in the back seat. To put it lightly, it was one of the most stressful couple of hours.
I was truly fearful our car would veer off the road into the snow banks. I was stressed because cars were flying past me on the icy roads. I was frustrated that the meet wasn’t cancelled. And we were both stressed because our arrival time was drifting annoyingly close to the start of the meet.
I did my best to keep myself calm, but within a few short minutes, she noticed the fear and stress on my face. This triggered fear and stress in her, which meant she instantly began to cry.
This example is meant to highlight how quickly our kids can pick up on how we are doing. And in those moments when our poker face is no longer hiding things, we have two options: 1. pretend things are okay, or 2. share our feelings. I get that some of you don’t want to “burden” your kids with your own things. And I don’t think we should dump our stuff onto our kids. But I do think we could strike the balance of sharing our feelings to teach stress management and emotional expression.
So I wonder – what do your kids notice about your body or your face?
What is your body and your face saying when you talk, yell, reprimand, connect with your child??
In moments of discipline and connection, remember our face is saying way more than our words!