Family life

Body language 101

Our bodies reveal so much that we can't/don't say. Here's a handy body-language decoder that will tell you what your partner — and you! — are really thinking.

By Today's Parent and Todays Parent
Body language 101

Photo: Fred Palmieri/iStockphoto

How many times have you rolled your eyes at something your spouse has said? Sighed, shrugged your shoulders, or worse, turned away? How many times have you — without saying a word — told your partner that you don’t care, or that you think he or she is a bother, an irritant, a pest?

Our bodies betray us. They say what we are unwilling, or unable, to communicate with words. What’s worse, our kids are acutely aware. They pick up on our snide gestures, understand exactly what our eye rolling means — and they mimic it.

A friend of mind recently told me that she and her husband were on an eye-rolling moratorium because their five-year-old son had begun dramatically to turn his baby-blues skyward every time he heard something he didn’t like. It’s a wise move — one we should all think of adopting.

Indeed, if you can’t, or won’t, say it with words, then you probably shouldn’t be saying it with your body. A good first step towards ending hurtful body language is to understand the messages you are sending.

Your handy-dandy body-language decoder

Eye rolling: an act of utter disrespect that is best summed up with, “Whatever!”

Shoulder shrugging: a gesture of defeat that says, “I give up,” and, “There’s no point in even saying anything.”

Arm crossing: a defensive posture indicating, “I’m under attack,” “I feel threatened,” and “I’m about to be hurt." Phone checking (or tablet flicking, or TV watching): a form of distraction that says, “What you’re saying/doing is not a priority,” and, “You’ll have to work a little harder to earn my attention."


Toe tapping: a sign of impatience. For example, “Hurry up so I can get out of here,” and, “I’m only pretending to be interested in what you are saying.”

Now, there are alternatives. When words fail, why not put your body to good use? After all, not all body language is bad. A single hug, for example, contains a thousand “I love you"s. Hmm. How else could you harness your body language for good? I’ll leave that to you….

Want to talk to other parents about this issue? Join the Sex & Relationships board in our forums>

This article was originally published on Aug 13, 2012

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