Are you still talking to your parents?

Do you also speak body language?

Text: Christian Heinrich | Photos: Benne Ochs

Who took Jonas' toy away? The kindergarten teacher doesn't need to wait for an answer, a glance around is enough. Three-year-old Isabel's shoulders are drooping, her head slightly bowed. Then she hides her face behind her hands - she wishes not to be involved in the situation.

“You can't not communicate,” the famous psychologist Paul Watzlawick once wrote. In Isabel's case, this means that even if she doesn't say anything, she says something. She involuntarily admits that she took the toy, through gestures, through posture, through her gaze. This type of communication is also called non-verbal. It includes everything that has nothing to do with the spoken word: facial expressions, gestures, touch, posture and movement, eye contact. Psychologists assume that more than half of communication takes place this way, through body language, facial expressions and gestures.

So we convey more through this non-verbal communication than through the words we say. This applies equally to adults and children. With children who are not yet able to speak all the nuances of the language, non-verbal communication plays a special role. Because in this way they have another opportunity to express themselves and reveal something from within. It is - by the way, also with adults - about conveying one's own attitudes, for example. If you say, for example, that you are going to see grandma and grandpa today and your child puts on their shoes, then that can show that grandma and grandpa are very popular. Even personality traits can be conveyed non-verbally, such as when a boy turns away because he is shy.

In Germany, however, gestures in particular do not always have a good cultural image. You don't point at a person, and those who gesticulate a lot cannot express themselves properly, are nervous and fidgety. But the gestures are wronged. Scientific studies have shown, for example, that intelligent children of kindergarten age gesticulate an above-average amount when speaking.

Children use gestures to learn to speak.

Apparently children resort to the fact that gestures can also serve as learning aids. Children have this experience at a young age, while learning the language. So toddlers combine word and gesture before they form so-called two-word sentences. For example, they say “mom” and point to an empty chair that mom usually sits on when they eat before saying “mom chair”. The pointing gesture enables the child to get an answer from the parents: "Yes, mom usually sits on this chair."

In addition, pointing could also be a direct aid to word learning: when a child points to something, the naming process may start in toddler age, suggest linguists. The pointing gesture is also the starting signal for speaking. Because a child who points to something has understood two essential things: that one can influence the perception, thinking and action of others with his or her behavior. And that this only works if the other person is paying attention. The basics of communication.

Accordingly, gestures naturally also function as a second language, which is why we speak of body language. What we know but cannot express with words, we describe with gestures. Much of this happens unconsciously, as in the case of Isabel, so the body language signals are often viewed as "truer" and "truer". Non-verbal communication serves as a form of expression for children and adults in several ways. On the one hand, you can control social situations - for example, if you want to say goodbye to a conversation, you turn to leave. But non-verbal communication is also used for self-expression: You show how you feel, for example by smiling, nodding or by tilting your head. You communicate always and at every moment through body language.

Children learn a lot through imitation. As a parent, show your child the possibilities of non-verbal communication. As a mother or father, you usually do this intuitively with the baby: you say no and shake your head a lot, you talk about a large playground and spread your arms and so on. Keep doing this as your child gets older.

In other cultures, gestures that are familiar to us sometimes have a completely different meaning. There is, for example, the thumb that is stretched upwards: in Central Europe it is used as a sign of triumph or approval. In many Arab countries, in Russia and in parts of Africa, however, this gesture is perceived as an obscene insult. Misunderstandings can also arise in non-verbal communication.

The kizi interview - without any words ...
Brandon Richter is 24 years old and a teacher in the children's room on Dorotheenstrasse. He was born in Alaska and has lived in Hamburg for three and a half years. As a native speaker, he has been the English-speaking supervisor in the "Elephant" group since March. We wanted some answers from Brandon about his day-to-day life at daycare. But of course in keeping with the topic: without talking!

Our author is delighted and impressed with the fervor with which his four-year-old twins use body language. If you don't know something, pull your shoulders up so that they are almost next to your ears and make a sweeping gesture. He has long since got used to it.

The column “Don't say anything” from the “Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin” inspired us for the photo interview with Brandon.

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