As adults, sometimes we talk too much.
Many times, we find ourselves making a point and then continuing to speak, hoping that our reminders, coaxing, and explanations will inspire a child to cooperate and adhere to community guidelines.
Dr. Montessori advocated for the use of minimal words when delivering lessons. She recognized that by speaking less and taking more action, the child’s focus would remain on the message rather than the messenger.
A big part of Positive Discipline is using non-verbal signals as a measure of Kindness and Firmness. Whether you are parenting your children or a teacher in a classroom, using nonverbal cues enables you to address students discreetly without drawing unwarranted attention to them.
This approach works well for students who may require frequent prompting. In the classroom, especially with UE and MS students, the teacher and the student, together, can agree on a private signal (e.g., the teacher tugs her ear) to remind the student to stay on task.
You may have heard the saying that 90% of communication is non-verbal. While that’s an exaggeration, non-verbal communication does hold significant weight.
If you know me, you know I love my research.
Research by Albert Mehrabian revealed that communication is 55% non-verbal, 38% vocal (tone of voice, pauses, etc.), and only 7% verbal. Studies have also shown that teachers’ non-verbal communication is correlated with student academic success.
Our actions really do often speak louder than our words. Teachers recognize this truth, and instead of incessantly reminding, coaxing, or nagging, we often use non-verbal communication to convey kindness and firmness. In response, we find that students treated with dignity and respect cooperate more readily.
Non-Verbal Signals (ages three and older):
Using signals is an effective method for interacting with children while establishing connections. Rather than verbally instructing a child to tidy up their mat left on the floor, a teacher might gently touch the child’s shoulder and offer a warm smile while pointing to the mat. When noticing a lunchbox left on the floor, an adult might pick it up and hand it to the child, prompting them to put it away.
Here are some other examples of signals for use with children:
- A hand on the teacher’s shoulder indicates a student’s desire to speak.
- A personalized signal between the child and the teacher to guide the child in centering themselves or taking a break from a group activity.
- Using the hand peace sign to signal the need for quiet and attention from a group.
- Extending an open palm indicates that children in conflict should place the disputed object in the adult’s hand.
- A walking motion with fingers on the palm to encourage a child to walk.
- Pointing to the foot instructs a child to put on their indoor shoes.
- The use of simple sign language is taught to all children.
- These signals are quiet, personal, and respectful. If the adult models kind and firm behavior, the use of signals can be empowering for the children and foster a connection, especially when accompanied by a warm, understanding smile.
Use a Note (ages six and older):
- Short, personalized notes can also be a discreet way to set limits and strengthen connections. Notes can be particularly effective for upper elementary and adolescent students.
- Notes can also be a powerful way to show appreciation and let students know they are seen and noticed and their contributions matter.
One of the core principles of Positive Discipline is that effective discipline is both kind and firm simultaneously. Children feel secure and develop cooperative relationships when they know that adults are on their side, even when it’s time to enforce boundaries. Non-verbal communication is one of the most potent ways to maintain relationships while upholding limits at school and home.
Assistant Head of School and Student Support Coordinator