Think body rather than words

Parents and carers of teenagers will be used to the grunts and monosyllabic replies to any question that doesn’t involve food.  While they are not communicating with you verbally, rest assured that their body will be communicating in subtle and not so subtle ways (yes this includes eye rolling).

In fact, only 7% of what we communicate is conveyed in words, 38% by tone and 55% non-verbally through body language. In our experience of working with children & young people , we have seen first-hand how the body communicates more than the child is able to.  Quite simply, it never lies.

Watching your teenagers body language and considering yours in response can be key to communicating.  Children & young people always tell us that their parents/ carers don’t understand them. To be fair from the few grunts they offer their parents, they aren’t making it easy. 

As parents/carers we are used to being in a position of having to manage every aspect of our little people.  Feeding at all hours of the night, tying laces, wiping faces and other body parts. Then we have our child suddenly trying to take their first steps into the adult world. We know that they need our help but its fair to say that they are usually less than willing to accept our words of wisdom. If they wont, and at times of high anxiety CANT listen to us, how else can we communicate with them?

Think body rather than words

Body Movement

Sitting next to them whilst they do their homework is much less threatening than standing over them.  It doesnt give us the best view of the work that they claim to be doing but being at their eye level or lower helps create that feeling of connection and safety. We can take a sneaky peak at their homework later.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is really important to adults but generally teenagers don’t seek it out as much. Trying to force eye contact can feel threating and may subconsciously cause their body to react with a fight or flight response.

Some of the best conversations I’ve had with young people are in the car with music on and no direct eye contact.  It feels much less threatening which can help them feel safe and able to explore their feelings with you.


That wee person who you literally couldn’t put down for 5 mins to allow you to have a shower is now recoiling in disgust at the thought of a cuddle with you.  Ironically, they need touch more than ever, it helps regulate them and who needs more regulating than a teenager! We just need to offer it differently. Little, often and subtly is key. 

Affection doesn’t have to be those big bear hugs that we were used to getting from our children.  It can be fleeting moments of affection as a gentle hand on the shoulder , touch or ruffle of the hair. 

Body autonomy is also really important for our children.  We have to teach our children that’s its ok to say no to a hug too. How to manage uncomfortable situations is a hard but necessary lesson for children.


Parents/carers of teenagers will probably know all about tone and will have no doubt used the phraseIt’s not what you said, it’s how  you said it” more than once.   Our voice produces more than just words , we can say something but if our tone doesn’t match up it can create a misunderstanding.  

Human nature means that when we are speaking to someone we often mimic their tone.  It’s something to be aware of when in discussion with your teenager, if we can keep our tone calm then we should be able to incite calmness in the other person too.

Parenting a teenager is not an easy job but hopefully some of these tips will helps with that process.  Being aware of not only what your child is saying but what their body and your body is saying is key.

Even Leonardo Da Vinci in the 1400 recognised the importance of looking and understanding body language:

“The average person looks without seeing, listens without hearing; touches without feeling; moves without physical awareness and talks without thinking.”

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Alison Clark
Alison Clark
3 years ago

Wonderful insight Donna. This goes a long way in trying to understand the strange creature that is the teen.

Billy Todd
Billy Todd
3 years ago

As a parent & carer this is good to read to do my wee reset as it’s easy to be drawn into dealing with what we see at times and always good to reflect on recent interactions and look for the subtle signs I may have missed and were vital to spot to ensure my response is attuned to what they need from me.

Thanks for this Donna

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