Non-Verbal Communication

What is it and why is it important?

Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) is as important for communication as language. In fact, over 50% of our communication is non-verbal.

NVC is sometimes referred to as body language, but it is much more than that. It comprises:

  • Facial expressions, e.g. opening eyes and mouth wide to show surprise, or wrinkling your nose if there is a bad smell.
  • Gestures, e.g. waving goodbye, shaking and nodding your head, shrugging your shoulders, etc.
  • Body position, e.g. how close we are able to be to others will depend on how well we know them.
  • Body posture, e.g. slouching in a chair when comfortable or standing stiffly when anxious.
  • How we use our voices when speaking. It’s not just what we say it’s how we say it that is important. Shouting and speaking quickly may indicate anger, fear or excitement. Speaking slowly conveys a more thoughtful attitude, or even anger if the voice is also controlled and quiet.
  • Using pictures, objects and the whole context to communicate. See Developing routines and using pictures as prompts.
  • baby reaching for mans face

    mother holding and kissing crying baby

  • Babies learn very quickly to communicate non-verbally, because crying and screaming can be effective ways of getting the message across! As children develop, they continue to rely on NVC to learn language and to convey messages that they can’t say.
  • All of us throughout life continue to use NVC to help us understand situations. However, young children may struggle to develop their understanding of words and sentences and so become over-reliant on NVC.
  • It is important that you are aware of this, as it may seem that your child is understanding what is being said but it could be that they are excellent at picking up the non-verbal cues and are not following the spoken word. It is important for you to work out if this is happening, so that you and others can help to develop your child’s understanding of the words as well as the NVC. If you are at all concerned, then you can speak to your local Speech and Language Therapy service.
  • Top Tips for using NVC

    a) Use NVC when you are speaking with your child, and especially when helping them to understand new words and ideas.

    b) Your heritage and cultural background may not be the same as the majority of other families in your area. If your child attends an Early Years setting, then speak with your Key Worker about this. It’s important that the setting understands your child’s home context and can both support your child and engage your family effectively.

    Web links

    Check out these pages to find lots more information and great ideas.

  • Nonverbal communication: body language and tone of voice
  • Body Language Essentials for Your Children—For Parents

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    Last modified: Friday, 15 May 2020, 2:28 PM