Teaching Kids How To “Read” People

Teaching Kids How To "Read" People - Parenting Like HannahThis probably never happens in your home, but have you ever had one of those parent miming conversations? You know, when one parent is taking a very strong conversational path with the kids while the other parent is desperately signaling to switch topics immediately. Which, as the signals are ignored, get more obvious and often end with the signaling parent muttering “don’t you know ‘this’ means stop talking?”

Your, I mean the “clueless” spouse had failed to read the signals properly, creating an awkward parenting situation. While your marriage and your kids will survive quite a few of those moments, there are other times when it is crucial our kids have learned to “read” the non-verbal signals others give them.

As your children serve people and share their faith with them, it is so very important they can accurately read the non-verbal signals from others. Often people are afraid to say what they are really thinking, but their face can speak volumes. Missing those clues can undo most, if not all, of the potential good being done.

As your children become involved in more sophisticated relationships with friends, colleagues and eventually romantic ones, being able to read others can also help your children know when to ask clarifying questions to prevent unnecessary conflict or stress in a relationship.

Thankfully, this is one of those skills that is fun to practice. There are several things you can do, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Photos – The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is often true. Pull out family photos from before your children were born. Look for ones with a story behind the scenes, like you and your sibling were arguing right before your mom snapped the photo or someone had just received some exciting news. Ask your kids if they can guess the real emotions behind the smiles. If you check online, there are all sorts of photos, some especially designed to help children with special needs practice identifying emotions. Those emotions are often more obvious and not as “hidden” as old family photos can be. Young children should start with the obvious emotions before working on more hidden ones.
  • Video – Turn the sound off on movies or television shows you have seen before, but your children don’t know. Have them guess the emotions of the characters by the expressions on their faces and the way they use their bodies. Then play the clips again with sound to see if they were right.  Shows like “I Love Lucy” are easier because they tended to exaggerate everything. Less campy shows may be more difficult for older children who want to practice more sophisticated people “reading”.
  • Real Life – Very young children may enjoy playing charades with basic emotions. Older children can be asked after real life situations how they think a person really felt about a situation compared to what they may have said.

As you practice with your children, don’t just stop with identifying emotions. Talk about what they should do in the various situations. How would God want them to handle things? Use common examples. Your child is telling a joke when one of his friends begins looking uncomfortable. Or they are excited about something, but their friends look upset. Or they offer someone they are serving food, but the person looks frustrated. Or they begin sharing their faith and someone looks angry.

In real life, teaching your children how to handle these situations in godly ways is what is the most important. To be able to know when they are in those situations though, your children will need to become comfortable at reading the unspoken clues other people give them. So have fun practicing, but make sure they know how to use what they have learned.


Published by

Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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