Communication is a pretty involved process. Think of it as a three-legged stool. The first leg represents all the nonverbal information a speaker wants to convey. The second leg stands for the emotions that accompany what’s being said. The third is the verbal content.
Skilled communicators attend to all three. They are able to interpret what is being said using the additional information provided by the nonverbal messages and emotional tone. Likewise, they are better able to monitor the emotion and nonverbal information that accompanies what they say.
Chronic stress limits children’s ability to develop good communication skills. Many lack the emotional regulation needed to monitor the affective tone of their interactions with others. They may be unable to correctly interpret nonverbal information, or lack the vocabulary necessary to talk about their interests or experiences.
Instead, they use their behavior to let us know their needs. It’s important to notice what they are trying to say. And interpret what we are seeing through a trauma-sensitive lens. Remember, children do well when they can. Repetitive patterns of negative, self-destructive behaviors signal a child’s cry for help. Don’t let it fall on deaf ears.