Everyone knows that listening is a big part of communicating with children. But have you ever thought about listening with your eyes as well as your ears? Observing a child’s non-verbal communication is one way to find out what’s really on their mind.
Even as adults we sometimes have a hard time putting our true feelings into words. Children find it even harder. By reading a child’s expressions and subtle ways of moving you can get a fuller picture. And once you see what’s on your child’s mind, tuning in and responding becomes much easier.
Listening with your eyes isn’t difficult. In fact, most teachers learn it from the experts: babies. A baby who silently turns down the corners of his mouth has effectively delivered their message. A baby who turns his head away while playing an exciting game of peek-a-boo may be saying, “Whew, this sure is fun, but I need a minute to calm down.” In the same way, a wide-eyed look of wonder or a wrinkled brow tells a teacher whether to keep on playing or call a momentary halt. By listening with your eyes, you can figure out when a baby has had enough, when she wants more, what she’s afraid of, and what she’s fascinated by. All without her saying a word.
It works with older children, too. A child in your class tells you he has had a great day at school, but bites his lip and looks out the window as he says it. His expression makes you decide to sit down and talk for awhile. You notice that one of the girls in your class will raise her eyebrows when you tell her it is time to clean up the dramatic play area. Seeing her expression makes you think that maybe she really was not ready to clean up and you have interrupted her work. You give her the benefit of the doubt. You witness two children playing a new board game in your classroom. You notice one child lift his hand to their mouth in hesitation when it’s his turn. You help out with a subtle hint instead of telling him that everyone’s waiting on him and we need to move the game along.
Listening with your eyes as well as with your ears can help you figure out and respond to what your children are feeling as well as to what they’re saying. It may mean glancing away from a clean-up routine, picking up the block area, cleaning out the paint jars, supervising the bathroom line or any one of a thousand things a busy teacher has to get done. But what you “hear” with that glance may well be worth a thousand words.