“Don’t Look at Me That Way!”
My daughter is a dancer and is keenly aware of movement. Because of this she has an interesting talent. She can identify and mimic all my families’ signature moves. It is hilarious.
All of us have gestures that we tend to repeat like my nephew scratches his head before he puts on his cap. My sister and I tend to open our mouth wide when we have a big expression of surprise.
But then there are gestures that speak volumes and are not entertaining.
Let’s start with your daughter. This is easiest to identify. What are some of her nonverbal gestures that have you going from 0 to 100 on the ticked off scale?
Your daughter’s body language
- She walks out of the room and slams the door
- She walks past you and doesn’t say anything
- She won’t look you in the eye
- She stays in her room all day
- She talks over you
- She’s aloof
- She stomps through the house
- She glares at you
- Rolls her eyes
- The “finger”
- Smirks at you
- Huffs at you
How do you respond to these gestures? Is there one move that hooks you more than the others? I wish I could hear your answers.
(You can apply this to other family members.)
These gestures can set off a dysfunctional dance of reactivity–in other words lots of drama between you and your daughter. You need to be aware of how these gestures trigger you and how you react.
Here are some ways moms react
- You raise your voice and say, “Stop disrespecting me.”
- You cross your arms
- You point your finger (a different finger than your daughter used)
- You glare
- You roll your eyes
- You look at her with disgust
- You stomp through the house
- You slam the door and rush past her
- You yell
- You talk over her
- You freeze
- You huff
- You throw down your purse
- You look at her like she is some alien that landed on the wrong planet
It’s interesting that many of these reactive gestures are similar to your daughter’s. Somehow we think are reactions are nobler and justified. “I wouldn’t have acted that way if she hadn’t been so disrespectful.”
These gestures are not helpful and will not teach your daughter anything except it’s ok to act that way. Your reactive gestures will escalate the conflict with your daughter into full-blown drama.
Your daughter is tuned into you just like you are tuned into her. Both of you are reading each other’s body language constantly. I know it seems like she is blowing you off most of the time but she will never blow off your nonverbal language.
Problems with Body Language
1. We are not aware of our body language.
A lot of body language is automatic which means you are not aware of it. Often times my daughter knows when I am stressed out before I do, because of my nonverbal. My face gets tight. I’ll squint my eyes and press my lips tight together. (Lovely right?)
2. You reaction time is fast as lightning
If your daughter doesn’t listen to you and stomps out of the room, you are going to react quickly. You will have a physical response. Your body chemicals release cortisol and adrenaline. Your chest and body are tense. You will have an emotional response. You feel angry, anxious or shocked. The same thing will happen to your daughter.
You will react before you can think it through.
3. Body language is not a clear language
This is the most confusing of languages. A gesture triggers us quicker than words. We make up explanations that often times aren’t true. There may be some truth to our interpretations but most of the time it is just the tip of the iceberg. For example if my daughter stomps through the house and slams the door it feels personal. Later I find out later something happened earlier at school and it wasn’t about me at all.
Here’s What You Can Do About It
1. Talk to your daughter when she has calmed down.
You don’t want to give too much attention to her body gestures. Most of the time it’s best if you ignore them. Definitely, don’t point out her gestures in the heat of the moment. If you say, “You are rolling your eyes and smirking”, it will only escalate her anger.
Talk about body language when both of you are calm. Start with yourself so she won’t get defensive.
Ask your daughter what your gestures and actions are. Believe me, your daughter will know. If you agree and recognize that you do those things then own it. By owning it you are modeling to her how to take responsibility for your actions.
Then ask your daughter if she is aware of what she does when she is upset or angry. Let her say it first. It’s easier for her to say it than for you point it out. If she has crossed the line with her gestures then take time to get clear. Next, you can tell her what the consequence will be if she does it again.
2. Don’t jump to conclusions or take it personally
If your daughter slams the door, you really don’t know why, all you know is that she slammed the door. Tell yourself you don’t have the whole story. All you have is the gesture and actions. Think of it as a clue that something else is going on with your daughter. Be curious about why she is acting that way.
3. Make sure you are calmed down
You need to slow down the reaction time by calming down and not jumping to conclusions. You can do this by leaving the room. Walk around the block. Go to the grocery store. Give yourself some time to think the situation through before you react.
4. Your body may be telling you something.
Your reactive gestures are a warning light that it is time to take care of you. You may be stressed and not know how much it is effecting you. Be kind to yourself and give yourself sleep, rest and play. Maybe you need to call a friend. Better yet get away for the weekend.
Here’s a question to ask yourself. What message is your daughter hearing about herself from your body language? When your daughter walks in the room does see a critical, disappointed, or angry face, or does she see your face light up with delight.