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Nonverbal communication forms an integral part of children’s growth and development. Since nonverbal communication involves the use of gestures, children can easily learn through them because there is significant positive correlation between nonverbal communication and learning. (Mundy, Sigman, Ungerer, & Sherman, 1987, p. 357; Burleson & Kunkel, 2002, p. 82; Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2004, p. 370).
Nonverbal communication is not only important in language development in normal children but also in autistic children, showing that it is an integral part of verbal communication, which is central to learning.
Iverson and Goldin-Meadow (2004) explain that, children communicate first using nonverbal cues, followed by verbal utterances, and therefore, the use of nonverbal cues prompts further research to determine whether it is a process to verbal communication or an integral part of verbal communication (p. 367). This research paper explores the importance of nonverbal communication in children’s growth and development in terms of language skills, emotional expression, and social relationships.
Language Foundation and Development
Research studies show that, there is positive correlation between the gestures a child uses and the preceding utterances during language development. In the research studies, Iverson and Goldin-Meadow (2004) claim that, gestures that the children use during their growth and development provides a means for them to convey meaning to the information they cannot convey verbally (p. 367).
This implies that, children tend to use nonverbal communication more than verbal communication, thus, nonverbal communication is very important in learning. Children can communicate nonverbally using gestures by pointing at objects around their environment, or verbally by uttering strange words, or by both gesture-word combinations (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2004, p. 368). Of the three ways of communication, nonverbal communication is the easiest because it is an innate characteristic.
Empirical studies show that, the use of gestures form about 50% of communication in children and that, significant gestures are transferred into speech during the course of language development (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2004, p. 368).
The nonverbal cues precede verbal utterances and not the vice versa, thus proving that nonverbal communication is much easier for the children to use and understand as compared to the verbal communication. Since both verbal and nonverbal are modes of communication, there is an intricate link between gesture and speech, which confirms that nonverbal cues are integral part of language development in children (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2004, p. 369).
Iverson & Goldin-Meadow further illustrate that the use of gestures by children signals language development; hence, nonverbal cues precede verbal communication (2004, p. 371). Therefore, nonverbal communication is very important in learning and language development among children.
Nonverbal communication is not only important in learning and language development for normal children, but also for autistic children, who need special education. Research works by Mundy et al. indicate that the influence of the play and nonverbal communication variables on the autistic children do not have significant correlation since their psychological factors differ with those of normal children (1987, p. 349).
Autistic children are deficient of the ability to acquire communication and language skills, hence their mechanism of learning differ from that of normal children but the use nonverbal communication significantly improve their learning (Mundy et al., 1987, p. 361). In autistic children, comprehension ability is more impaired as compared to expression ability.
Boucher argues that the use of sign language, “have an advantage over speech in those individuals who have additional problems such as hearing loss or dyspraxia, and it is sometimes easier teach minimal vocabulary of signs, than it is to teach speech to mentally retarded autistic individual” (2003, p. 248). Although their mechanisms of learning differ, nonverbal communication seems to have similar effects in improving the process of learning as in the case of normal children.
Object play skills are the usual learning processes that seemed to be better mechanisms of language development for autistic children but recent studies found out that nonverbal communication is more effective and essential for the young autistic children to develop their language and communications skills.
Mundy et al. (1987) confirm that, though autistic children have varied psychological factors, the use of nonverbal communication gives significant positive effects in their learning (p. 363). Therefore, nonverbal communication is necessary for effective development of language in autistic children.
There is correlation between nonverbal communication and emotional expression amongst children. Nonverbal communication is important in regulating emotional expression during the process of socialization and communication. Although there is significant gendered difference in emotional expression, research findings conclude that nonverbal communication is very important in determining emotional expression in children (Buck, 1975, p. 645).
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The findings further prove that, nonverbal communication is an essential factor in development and regulation of social behavior in children as Buck contends that, nonverbal communication regulates and facilitates effective emotional communication among the children (1975, p. 644). These findings confirm that, nonverbal communication is important in expressing emotional responses during socialization and acting.
Nonverbal communication is also important in family socialization because it has significant influence on the emotional expression in children. “When the family environment is high in expressiveness, individuals do not have to work hard to perceive the emotional states of family members; thus, these individuals become more skilled in expressing emotions but less skilled in perceiving emotions” (Halberstadt, 2002, p. 828).
Therefore, the nature of family in terms of expressiveness determines emotional expressiveness of the children as nonverbal communication in high expressive families provides freedom for the children to express their emotions.
Halberstadt asserts that, “individuals from more expressive homes are themselves more expressive than individuals from less expressive homes” (2002, p. 835). Research findings have revealed that nonverbal communication within the family is important because it affects the emotional expression of the children.
Since there is positive correlation between the use of nonverbal cues and emotional responses in children, the nature of families determines the extent to which the children use nonverbal communication.
Halberstadt (1986) argues that socialization is a complex process, which have subtle effects on emotional expression and interpersonal skills that are subject to diverse socialization influences from the family, peers, culture and the whole society (p. 827). In the case of children, the nature of the family is the primary factor that determines the emotional expression and socialization behavior in children. Nonverbal communication has great influence on the emotional expression and socialization in the family.
The influence of nonverbal communication within the family set up has a long-lasting effect on the emotional expression and socialization ability of the children. Halberstadt supports the socialization hypothesis which envisages that children from more expressive families are better nonverbal senders than the ones from the less expressive families (1986, p. 834).
Research findings approve this hypothesis because there is positive correlation between family experiences and emotional expressions of the children. According to Halberstadt (1986), emotional expression and communication skills in children are influenced by the nature of family environment in terms of emotional expressiveness (p. 827). Children from expressive families are more expressive in their communication, proving the importance of nonverbal communication in developing expressive social behavior.
According to Burleson and Kunkel (2002), young children depend on their parents for emotional support, and as they grow up, they begin to derive their emotional support from their peers in the process of socialization (p.83). This observation underscores the importance of nonverbal communication in socialization circles.
Burleson and Kunkel (2002), point out that emotional and psychological condition of the children depends on the emotional support from the parents and family experiences (p. 80). For the children to manage both negative and positive emotional states, they must develop social perception skills and nonverbal skills. Social perception skills enable the children to read emotional cues from their parents or peers, while nonverbal skills enable them to communicate effectively in the course of socialization and supportive care.
Research findings by Burleson and Kunkel indicate that the comforting skills that the children receive from both their parents and peers have significant influence on their socialization abilities (2002, p. 90). The comforting skills of both the parents and the peers have a greater influence in promoting cognitive structures, and if applied through nonverbal mechanism, they would significantly enhance socialization in children.
Nonverbal communication is an integral and essential component for proper growth and development in children. Children are active in learning new things each day and the most effective way of learning is through nonverbal communication.
Mundy et al. have also found out that, even autistic children can learn better through nonverbal communication despite their deficiency in learning abilities (1987, p. 351). This shows that even autistic children can learn better through nonverbal communication despite their deficiency in learning abilities.
Although nonverbal communication precedes verbal communication in children, it is an essential component of verbal communication, which facilitates languages development in children. In addition, Nonverbal communication benefits the children in development of emotional expression and social relationships. Hence, nonverbal communication is an essential strategy for optimal development of language, emotional expression and socialization skills.
Boucher, J. (2003). Language Development in Autism. International Congress Series, 1254, 247-253.
Buck, R. (1975). Nonverbal Communication of Affect in Children. Journal of Personality And Social Psychology, 31(4), 644-653
Burleson, B., & Kunkel, A. (2002). Parental and Peer Contributions to the Emotional Support Skills of the Child: From Whom Do Children Learn To Express Support? Journal of Family Communication, 2(2), 79-97.
Halberstadt, G. (1986). Family Socialization of Emotional Expression and Nonverbal Communication Styles and Skills. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(4), 827-836.
Iverson, J.M., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2004). Gesture Paves the Way for Language Development. American Psychological Society, 16(5), 367-371.
Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Ungerer, J., & Sherman, T. (1987). Nonverbal Communication and Play Correlates of Language Development in Autistic Children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 17(3), 349-364.