When your child communicates with you, she’s speaking in two languages.

One is the language of the left hemisphere– you hear the words, and the information of those words, and interpret their meaning with your left hemisphere. “I can’t make this Lego snap on.” This left hemisphere message lets you know that your child is having trouble snapping the Legos together.

The other language is the language of the right hemisphere—this information is in the form of emotion and non-verbal messages. For example, how loud, energetic, or intense was the message?  What tone of voice was used? The right hemisphere also communicates through facial expressions, body posture, and movement. When your child says “I can’t make this Lego snap on” with her teeth clenched, hands in fists, in an intense and loud tone of voice, and brows furrowed, it clearly communicates frustration and probably a plea for help. If the same words are said in a deflated quiet tone of voice, head hanging, it clearly communicates discouragement and perhaps even the message of “I can’t do anything.”

Sometimes we act like we only speak and understand left-hemisphere-ese. But we’re missing at least half of the message when we ignore the right-hemisphere-ese. The challenge is for us to use our whole brains and listen to and VALUE EQUALLY the languages of both sides of the brain. To do this well, we have to listen and pay attention with our right hemisphere, too. Pay attention to the non-verbal clues and ask yourself, what is my child saying beyond the words? This may be challenging for you if you grew up in a home where the external events of life were discussed, but the internal mental life wasn’t given attention. You can begin developing your own right hemisphere by paying attention to people’s nonverbal communication and just by being aware of this new way of seeing the world.

When we listen with both sides of our brain, we can then begin to respond with both sides our brain and have the emotionally connecting communication with our children that they need to thrive.