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We’ve all had a similar experience. You walk through the grocery store, grab a few items, and head to the checkout. The cashier asks blandly how you are. You say “I’m good, thanks, how are you?” and the answer is, “fine,” but you know that’s a lie. Their facial expression alone tells you that they are definitely not fine.

What if we all, adults and children, had the ability to notice when people are not fine? Imagine all the people we could help, encourage, and support. All it takes to more fully love and serve people is an ability to recognize when something is wrong. That ability to recognize begins with an understanding of body language.

By the same token, if we can understand when something is wrong, we will also be able to see when something is very right. We can celebrate with people and share their enthusiasm. Learning to notice what other people are feeling is a valuable skill to have, especially for family. So how can we start teaching our children to notice and empathize with what others are feeling? Well, we can start with recognizing body language.

Guess what I’m Feeling

Play an acting game with your child. Act out a certain emotion using only your facial expression. See if your child can guess – are you angry? Sad? Happy? Worried? Surprised? Have your child take a turn while you guess.

Posture is Everything

Discuss what a person might be feeling based on how they hold their head. Is their chin high? Maybe they are proud of something. Are they looking at the ground? Maybe they are worried or shy. What about their shoulders, are their shoulders back or slumped forward? Where are they holding their hands? Arms crossed could symbolize anger or resentment, while hands loose at the side might be calm confidence. Act out these various postures.

Take it to the Next Level

Now step it up to the next level. We can notice other’s feelings from their body language. But what does our body language say about us? Is it saying what we want it to say? This is your chance to work on eye contact, smiling, no eye rolling or arm crossing, nodding, and leaning in close to show you are listening.

I can’t count the number of times my little brother has enthusiastically shown me some lego or kinnex creation of his. Sometimes I pick up on his enthusiasm and join in, exclaiming gladly at how awesome his invention is. I’m ashamed to say that other times I take no notice, or even if I did notice his excitement, I don’t care enough at that moment to try sharing his joy. When we miss body language cues, we miss precious moments like this. Let’s not miss anymore. When we start noticing, we start loving more completely. And loving is what family is all about.

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