Body Language: What Are You Really Saying?

By Janis Meredith | Posted 5/15/2019

Words are very important and what you say to your child matters, but your body language actually carries more weight.

In 1971, psychologist Albert Mehrabian published Silent Messages, which included his research on nonverbal communication. When it comes to our credibility, he found that we assign 55% of the weight to body language, 38% to tone and 7% to actual words.

Psychology Today echoes that conclusion: What your body says is more accurate than what you say, and it speaks before you do. So always be aware that often we can tell what you are thinking or feeling before you speak.

Understanding that nonverbal communication is just as important as your words means that you must pay attention to what your body is saying. Here’s some food for thought:

  • Eye rolling and negative facial expressions when your child is talking communicates that you don’t really care about what they’re saying and have already formed a judgment.
  • Staring at your phone or not replying to your child says you’re not really listening to what they have to say.
  • Slumped shoulders and deep sighs signify frustration and/or disappointment. While this can be helpful if your child has truly let you down, monitor how frequently you’re displaying these actions as they may be overused.
  • An angry or raised tone of voice can escalate conflicts or even start one. It’s natural to get upset, but a calm tone can help keep tempers down


Now, here are some positive body language habits to focus on:

  • Give lots of eye contact to let them know they have your full attention.
  • Affirmative movements like nodding your head or smiling lets your children know that you are listening, understanding and on their side.
  • Lean in, maybe even putting your hand on your child’s shoulder, when they’re speaking. This shows that you are interested and care about what they’re saying.


Body Language and Your Child’s Game

Now, let’s bring the body language discussion to your child’s practice or game and take a look at the most common body language mistakes that sports parents make:

  • Throwing your hands up or kicking the dirt. This communicates frustration and disgust to your child and if they can see this from the field, it will distract them.
  • Pacing the sidelines. This shows your angst about them being on the field.
  • Turning your back on the game. This broadcasts that you can’t stand to watch.
  • Shaking your head or rolling your eyes displays your frustration.
  • Rolling your eyes. Now, obviously your child can’t see this during the game, but rolling your eyes in post-game conversations says you don’t want to hear their opinion on the game, playing time, how they played, etc.  
  • Scowling. Before, during and after games, your facial expression gives it all away. No matter what you may mean to communicate with your face, a scowl says you’re not happy with your child.
  • Crossed Arms. Standing that way at a game may look intimidating to your child from the court or field. It tells them you’re stressed when watching them play.

I’ve talked a lot about filtering your words, but it would be wise to filter your body language too. Perhaps in your frustration to control your words, you let it seep out in your body language instead – and that’s just as telling for your child.

Janis Meredith is a family coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at