What Does My Child See on My Face in Times of Discipline?

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Discipline, Parenting

Our faces. They say a lot to our kids. Before the first words roll off our tongue, we’ve already begun communicating. 

Studies show that between 60–90 per cent of all communication is nonverbal, with 55 per cent related to the face alone.* 

Take a common scenario like your child leaving a trail of food, wrappers, or toys. What might go through your mind at a time like that? “I’ve talked to him about this for weeks, numerous times a day, and nothing has changed! This place is constantly a mess!”

With all that going on inside, it’s sure to show up on your face. Your facial expressions may be sending messages like:

“Child, you are a disappointment.”
“Child, you are hopeless.”
“Child, you are a walking mess!”

The faces we get in return from our kids confirm those discouraging messages have been received. What do their faces often show us? Perhaps some fear. Maybe anger. Or the one that gets many parents’ blood boiling: defiance!

If we send these underlying messages regularly, they begin to build identity in our kids and tend to keep us stuck in hurtful patterns.

What steps can we take to change our patterns of facial expression and communication? How can we send messages of God’s grace and truth to our kids and communicate our love for them, even in the midst of the struggle?

Here are some practical ideas to help your face reflect God’s grace for your kids:  

Transform the Source of Your Expressions

We aren’t suggesting you grit your teeth and fake a smile when you’re really angry at your child. But if you want to engage more peacefully with your child, start by considering God’s gracious face for YOU when parenting is stressful. Then, identify grace-filled truths about your child. What we believe and think will determine how we feel and act. 

Sometimes when I’m struggling, I’ll pray a simple prayer like, “God, how do you see my child? What is true about her?” When I ask these questions to God, I get a different perspective than the one I’m holding. Then I repeat things to myself that I know are true about my kids. Things like:

“This is a season of growth and learning for my child.”
“I can help build wisdom in my child when I’m calm.”
“This moment doesn’t define me or my child.” 

Practice When the Heat Isn’t On

If we are going to change some well-worn patterns, we’ll need to practice. So try the following unconventional experiment… in a little privacy.  

  1. Identify a typical, frustrating misbehaviour. 

  2. Stand in front of a mirror with your eyes closed, and out loud address the misbehaviour as you usually would. Open your eyes as soon as you near the end of your sentence and note your facial expression. What does it communicate? 

  3. Now watch your face as you address the misbehaviour in a respectful way, and make the face you want your child to see when he or she is struggling. What do you see?

As I became more aware of these dynamics in my own parenting, I learned to relax my face before saying anything. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the difference it makes as my kids tend to mirror my expression. 

Recently, one of my daughters was avoiding doing something she had committed to doing. Although I was frustrated, I paused to calm my heart to make sure my face was relaxed and non-judging. Her face matched mine — pleasant and calm, and we had a brief, productive conversation. (My furrowed brow and steely-eyed gaze does NOT tend to elicit a positive response!)

So consider how you would like your face to look when interacting with a misbehaving child in order to reflect God’s grace and truth. 

God calls us to seek His face when we are in our “day of trouble:”

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
— Psalm 27:8

May your face represent the safety, love, and wisdom of God as you guide your children!

Used with permission. Originally published at connectedfamilies.org.