It’s hard to deliver sad news – which is why a mother phoned me this week. Their family pet of many years was nearing the end of his life and mom wanted some advice on how to tell their young children. My suggestion was the same as when I talk to parents about discussing a divorce, accident, sickness or other unfortunate event with kids. “Most importantly,” I said. “Remember the game, ‘Follow the Leader.’” Your children will follow your lead, and if you are handling the loss well, you send the message, “All will be well.” By “handling well”, of course, I mean modeling appropriate emotional sadness and grief, but also conveying strength, gratitude (for the time spent) and positive assurance.
When babies are born, they first look toward adults to determine, “Is this a safe place?”. Obviously, the way we communicate the answer is not so much through our words as it is our facial expressions, the tone of our voices, volume and body language. This same principle applies to the majority of our interaction with others. Actions really do speak louder than words.
I wonder what messages my facial expressions, tone of voice, volume and body language convey – especially when I’m not having a good day. Support? Optimism? Frustration? Encouragement? Instability? I don’t really have an answer, but I do think we could all use some self-reflection in this area. Our non-verbal behaviors have a strong impact on individuals around us. So, let’s make a conscious attempt to convey healthy emotional states this week. And if we are lucky, perhaps others will follow our lead.