Practicing Non-Verbal Skills through games

By Sara Mansson

We have talked about social skills before, see for example this post on negotiating, this one about stimulating your child’s emotional development or this one about saying goodbye.

There are several ways of communicating with others, many of which go far beyond our words. In fact, some would estimate that as much as 90% of social success is dependent on non-verbal skills rather than verbal ones. Although these numbers are debated by others, non-verbal communication is an important part of everyday communications and without it we (and our children) would often miss opportunities of true connection.

Although most children will learn these skills just fine by themselves, today we will explore which fun games may help your child feel more confident and comfortable using several  non-verbal skills that are fundamental to being socially successful.

Eye contact
Eye contact can tell us much about our interaction with someone else. It serves the purpose of being a channel of emotional communication: “are you really angry or are you only joking?”; of romantic interest; of power in terms of dominance and submission; and of communicating attention, and more. One of the most prominent functions of eye contact when having a conversation is to show that one is listening.

Simon Says
Simon says normally goes like this: the game leader (‘Simon’) determines what will happen. He/she will ask others to do an action like walking, jumping, turning, etc. by saying ‘Simon says walk’. But he/she will also try to fool the others by saying only ‘walk’. When the game leader does not start by saying ‘Simon Says …’ the others are not supposed to do it.
In this version of the game, the Simon has to blink exaggeratedly when the others are supposed to do the action, instead of saying “Simon Says” out loud.

Wink murder
Another game that helps children feel more comfortable with eye contact is wink murderer. In this game,  a detective has to find out who in the group is “killing” other group members by winking at them.

Body language & posture
We show much of what we are feeling and thinking with our body. Think about your child’s posture when he is feeling proud of an achievement as opposed to when he is feeling ashamed about accidentally breaking a glass. Noticing others’ body postures is one way of getting a glimpse into what others are feeling without actually having to ask them.

Charades
emotion-conesYou can teach your child the importance of paying attention to others’ body language by playing games like charades where body language and posture are central parts to figuring out the correct answer (think of answers like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Sleeping Beauty, The Hungry Caterpillar for charades with book titles). It will be a fun way to engage the whole family in reading body language without drawing attention to the learning aspect.

Exploring Posture
The players are asked to walk around the room. Every half a minute or so, the game leader suggests a posture the players have to take on. For example, they could ‘walk as a turtle’ or ‘stand like a tree’. Ask the players to pay attention to how the different postures make them feel. Afterwards, reflect on the postures by asking questions like: ‘which posture made you feel very scared?’ or ‘which one made you feel the most powerful?’ etc.

Facial expressions & emotion recognition
Our facial expressions often reveal much about what we’re thinking and feeling (even involuntarily!), so they’re useful to be able to read and express correctly. Research has even found that children who are skilled at reading others’ faces are more likely to be considered as popular.

school-busThe Emotion Bus
The Emotion Bus is a fun game for a small group of children. One child or adult is the bus driver and sits in front of the imaginary bus (the bus can be defined by chairs, pillows, hoops, cloths, or something else). The bus driver picks up all the passengers (other players) one by one. Each passenger that comes in, buys a ticket and takes place in the bus is experiencing a new emotion and everyone in the bus, including the driver, mimic the emotion. For example, if a new passenger comes in crying, all passengers on the bus will begin to cry. When all passengers are picked up, they could be dropped off one by one showing an emotion while they get off the bus too.

Guess my emotion
To teach your child about reading facial expressions, you could together create flashcards with the most basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, surprise. You could then play a game in which one person has to think of a scenario in which a person feels this emotion, and the other player can get points by correctly mimicking the emotion on their face. For example, for the card that reads disgust, player one could say “Someone who just stepped in dog mess.” and then player two has to correctly guess that it is disgust by pulling a disgusted face. Once your child has learned these basic emotions, you could make the game more challenging by adding more complex emotions, such as jealousy, confusion, pride, and such.


If you find that your child struggles with making friends, negative thoughts, negotiating, bullying and teasing, or just interacting with others, you may contact Expat Child Psychology to learn more about how your child could benefit from one of our Social Skills 4 Kids courses, starting this fall!

Play & Education

Before, in the blog ‘About Toys’ I already said it: play is one of the most important means of child development. Children learn and develop through their exploration of toys and games, their language, physical abilities, social skills, cultural awareness, every part of development can be addressed by play. As Paula Vergunst & I will be giving a workshop (08/11/2013) exactly on this topic, here’s a little warming up in advance.

Someone who has done a lot of research on the topics of play, child development and education is Peter Gray. Peter Gray is an evolutionary psychologist, associated with Boston College. I have met with Peter Gray on a few occasions and his knowledge about playfulness and education always impress me.  Currently I am reading his newest book called‘Free to Learn, why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life’. 

As a result of his own research and personal experiences with his own son, Gray became increasingly concerned about the amount of time children spent playing nowadays and the quality of that play. He spent years of his career studying childhood, childhood education and child development from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary psychologists look at why certain psychological concepts and behaviors have occurred in terms of evolution & natural selection – similar to a biologists view on the physical characteristics of species. Gray used reports from anthropologists and knowledge from history to view how children were education in different times and cultures. The results of his study are very interesting and show that our society’s view on education is by far not the most natural or pleasant option for educating children.  In fact it shows that children can – and will, if allowed to – do most of their education themselves.

SAM_0466In short, Gray saw that children in (present day) hunter gatherer societies all over the world got lots of time for free play. In fact – even adults had lots of time for free play because hunting and gathering were not as time consuming as farming (though more of a risk, you never knew if you would find food). It is assumed that hunter-gatherer societies of our ancestors were quite similar to the ones that are still around today. Which means that before agricultural periods there was no formal way of educating children and most of their education came from within; kids desire to be similar to their mums and dads. They play and act out scenes they have seen or heard of, such as how to hunt and how to take care of kids. They learn from older kids who have played it many times before. They play it so often that they know how it works halfway in puberty when they are allowed to participate in the real thing – still in a playful manner. And gradually play becomes the real thing.

Over time, perceptions of child play and education changed together with other major changes in society. Agriculture was hard work, children in these societies often needed to work too and there was not much time for play. Industrialization came with education the way we know it now, but based on strict religious beliefs that the main thing children were supposed to learn was obedience to their superiors; harsh methods were used to educate children.

© Kutt Niinepuu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Since the early twentieth century when education became mandatory in most Western countries, more and more demands are made of the education of our children; more hours at school, more homework… Next to that, children are very busy these days; going to daycare (still an adult-supervised situation) or sports (yet another one). Time for free unsupervised play is becoming more and more limited. This is one of Gray’s biggest concerns; his research shows that children educate (=learn everything there is to learn in order to be a successful person in society) themselves and adults are not supposed to interfere unless asked.

Looking back at our own childhoods, aren’t the moments of free play the moments we remember best? Aren’t these the moments we may remember as the most enjoyable, but also the moments we learned our most valued lessons?

This post was originally published on my old website on September 16th, 2013.

Of course this blog only gives a very limited view of the findings of Peter Gray, considering he wrote a whole book about it. If you’re interested, you can order his book online or in the Netherlands at the American Book Center (The Hague / Amsterdam).

Interested in the Play & Parenting Workshop? Click here to see whether it is scheduled again or ask us to present for your group/company.

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