If you were told the only food you could eat for the next week is your least favorite food, what expression would be on your face? You almost don’t need to think through the process of how to show the disgust you are feeling. After years of practice, it comes naturally when faced with an unpleasant situation.
Unfortunately, children often see expressions on the faces of their parents that can cause them unnecessary pain. Over the course of their childhood, these parental facial expressions can also mold your child’s character and self-image in positive or negative ways.
It is crucial for you to realize what expressions your face makes in certain situations and intentionally work to send the appropriate messages to your kids with your facial expressions as well as your words.
Here are five important facial expressions to use intentionally when interacting with your kids:
- Joy and excitement. When your kids enter the room, what do they see on your face? Do you even notice they are there? Whether your kids have been at school all day or at Grandma’s for the weekend, it’s important to look up and acknowledge your children have entered the room. Not with a distracted nod, but eyes that light up and a joyful smile on your face. Your kids are one of the most important blessings in your life and your face needs to reflect the joy and excitement you feel because they are in your life. This is especially important during those awkward times of conflict in your relationship. They need to see on your face that no matter how upset you are with their recent poor choices, you still love them dearly.
- Curiosity and genuine interest. It breaks my heart to meet so many children who obviously have no adult who is genuinely curious about what is happening in their lives and interested in what they have to say. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything about the topic and it generally bores you. This is something very important to your child, which should make it very important to you. You may never be a huge fan of whatever they have to share and that’s okay. What your kids need to see on your face though is that you are interested in what they have to share because it is important to them. Showing curiosity and interest on your face when they share about something that happened at school or their favorite hobby, will make them more likely to talk to you when they are trying to figure out the answers to much more serious topics.
- Your poor choices are making me sad or at times, the “poker” face. This facial expression will vary depending upon the child and the offense or potential offense. A word of warning here. It is tempting when your child is telling you something that scares you to death, to jump to conclusions and/or over react – especially with anger. Try to keep a blank or poker face until you have heard the entire story. Who knows? It may end with your child making a wise choice. If the ending is not so great, default to sadness instead of wrath if at all possible. Let’s face it, part of the process of learning to stop sinful behavior is guilt and remorse. Most older kids and teens will realize their need to repent much more quickly when they realize they have disappointed a parent. Many have learned to tune out parental anger and build an emotional wall to ignore it. Be intential about showing the hurt you are feeling more than the secondary emotion of anger.
- You have hurt my feelings. It amazes me how many parents will let their kids say incredibly hurtful things to them and show zero emotion or refuse to correct the behavior. If you want to raise an empathetic, loving child, you need to teach them to avoid saying hurtful things to others on a regular basis. Let them see the hurt on your face when they are disrespectful and say ugly or mean things to you. Make sure and express those feelings verbally also and dole out correction and consequences. Expressing your hurt, does not undermine your authority – failing to correct and give consistent consequences does that. Sharing how their words hurt you is giving them training in understanding how their words can help or hurt others.
- We/I have set firm, but loving boundaries for you. If you continue on this path and violate those boundaries (rebellion), there will be correction and consequences. You may have heard this called the “teacher” or the “mom” look. It’s a mix of “I love you, but have you lost your mind?” and “If you do this, it will not go well for you”! Many children will decide to avoid the poor choice when they see this look, reminding them to avoid temptation and make a better choice. Meaningful heart changes in your child require more work than this look, but it sure helps in public situations where you want to minimize possible trauma for everyone present!
Think you have mastered these important facial expressions and use them appropriately? Ask your spouse, or if you are really brave, your kids. If you are struggling, ask your spouse to role play with you as you practice naturally using an appropriate facial expression. Supporting your parenting with your facial expressions accurately reflecting how you really feel can make your message and your body language say the same thing – and those are the messages best heard by our kids.