Skip main navigation

Hurry, only 3 days left to get one year of Unlimited learning for £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Non-Verbal Communication in Childcare

Verbal communication is vital but there are other ways in which we communicate and let people know how we are feeling, and these will be used even more frequently than words. In the realm of childcare and in working with vulnerable children, the weight of any non-verbal communication is not to be underestimated.
Man places hand on shoulder of boy to comfort him
© University of Strathclyde

Verbal communication is vital but there are other ways in which we communicate and let people know how we are feeling, and these will be used even more frequently than words. In the realm of childcare and in working with vulnerable children, the weight of any non-verbal communication is not to be underestimated.

How do we Display Non-Verbal Communication?

The way in which we communicate by non-verbal means can be wide and varied. It can include:

  • Reliability and punctuality – express that you value another person’s time by making and sticking to arrangements.
  • Facial expressions – smiles, frowns, raised eyebrows and twisted lips all convey messages.
  • Physiological responses e.g. quickened breath, blushing, paleness etc. Again, all convey messages, although there may be aspects of these which we have less control over.
  • Physical distance/closeness – attunement in body positioning: leaning forward/holding back.

Non-Verbal Communication With Children

All of the above are important in communicating with children and young people. However, facial expressions are perhaps the most important as they will be the most consistent way in which children experience us.

Petrie comments that whether we mean to or not, our faces can convey a great deal of meaning. She focuses on the acts of smiling, gazing and frowning.

  • Smiling – these are positive warm messages but many people will recognise an insincere smile when they see one.
  • Gazing – looking directly into the face of another person, perhaps gazing into their eyes.
  • Frowning – a frown can show that someone is puzzled, anxious or displeased.

All of the above are very powerful but all can easily be misinterpreted. A simple exercise can illustrate how this can be the case. Next time you watch a television programme or film try turning off the sound. Concentrate on the faces of the actors and their facial expressions. Can you follow the story without words? What facial expressions give the clearest meaning? Reflect on this as you further your studies.

© University of Strathclyde
This article is from the free online

Caring for Vulnerable Children

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now