As a classroom teacher, I regularly get to hear about the endless struggles between children and grown-ups at home.
Parents complain of frequent, annoying behavior issues that drive them nearly mad – endless tantrums from children and having to repeat the same requests again and again. At school, things are both tougher and easier.
In my classroom, I have more kids to encourage and discipline, and I simply cannot afford to repeat myself more than once. If I had to repeat everything twice to every single child in a class of 30, I’d be dead by lunch time.
So what do I do? I use every method of communication that I can – other than talking – to make myself understood. This means that in the six hours that I spend with the children I probably say less than the average parent says in an hour.
Protect your mental health, and to learn how to say everything you need to say without even using any words with these simple strategies:
Remember the old expression: eyes are the window to the soul? Make sure your eyes clearly express the cry of your soul when the little buggers are beginning to get on your nerves.
My kids are trained to respond appropriately to a whole range of different eye expressions. Eyes wide open? I’m semi-surprised, or semi-shocked. Eyes fixed on the floor? They know I’m seriously upset. They understand that they’ve either done something they shouldn’t have, or they’ve got to stop whatever it is that they’re doing right now.
If I slide down in my seat and put my feet on the desk – something I’d only rarely do – my body language is saying, “You’re not focusing and you’re not working hard enough. I’m going to chill and do nothing as well. Don’t wake me up when it’s play time because you ain’t gonna get any if you carry on doing nothing.”
That’s a lot of information all communicated in one theatrical action. But the good news is you don’t need to have such advanced acting skills to make your life a bit easier. You do quite a bit of it naturally already: hands on your hips, arms crossed on your chest, etc.
You just need to make it intentional and broaden your “repertoire” so you’re not doing it unconsciously when you’re already furious, rather using it strategically to achieve a desired effect before things escalate.
Body language is also about where you are in space. If the child is messing around in class, it’s often quite effective to just get into their space. Stand uncomfortably close to them, just watching, and without saying a word. No one wants to have someone stand over them with an air of heavy reprimanding silence. It’s a clear message that they need to reconsider their current behavior.
A chalk board (or any other writing surface and materials) is great for protecting your vocal cords.
When a child is fiddling and lesson time is wasted, I just write “5 minutes” on a small whiteboard. I show it to the child who knows he owes me five minutes of his playtime. No need to explain anything.
You can do the same at home. If your instructions are ignored, you quietly write the amount of time the process has taken on the board. This is the amount of time your child loses watching a show, playing video games, etc.
You can use simple drawings or symbols depending on what your child best responds to. You can use the board for reminders, rewards, or sanctions. For any kind of message that you don’t want to have to repeat.
This is not exactly a word-free method of communication, but children tend to respond well to it and it does save time and energy. Ask your child’s teacher if they use rhymes or songs in the classroom and then re-introduce them at home. For example, “One, two, three…eyes on me.” is a popular rhyme in elementary school.
Some of the most commonly used signs in a classroom setting are: sit, listen, wait, take turns. If You can always make up your own. However, it’s obviously best if the same signs are used/understood by all adults working with and caring for the child.
Visuals are very helpful when delivering important information about time, or what’s coming next.
Looking at your watch – whether you’re wearing one or not – is a universal visual for communicating that it’s time to go, or that something is taking too long. Sand-timers are a great way to show how much time is left for an activity, or how much time is left before the next transition. Children don’t need to be able to tell time for these to be effective.
Other helpful visuals include things like holding up a book to indicate it’s time to go to the library, or that it’s time to get ready for bed and a story. A re-usable bag could mean that it’s time to go grocery shopping, and a spoon could mean it’s time to get ready for dinner. You can come up with the objects of reference that work for you. Many children love using this sort of “secret code.”
Take time to explore which strategies work for you and your children. Remember that this strategy is primarily about your own mental and emotional welfare. Constantly repeating yourself to no avail becomes irritating and upsetting. If you invest in developing non-verbal communication strategies while your children are little, it’ll save you a lot of time and energy in the future.
Communicating clearly will help you be a better parent – more patience, less snapping.