Has anyone ever asked you “how you are feeling?” to be teased “tell your face then!” Heard the description having resting b$tch face or even a face like a slapped … you get my drift. When you think about it a lot of effort goes into learning to use your face to express emotions. Plus a life time of incidental learning.

It doesn’t all come naturally

With babies we literally spend weeks of celebration. Every new smile “happy smiley baby”. Comfort at every new tear with a narrative of  “oh bless sad baby”. Hours and hours of making faces at the them and showing pictures of faces.

Toddlers providing endless questions, but how is the bear feeling? Endless posing on a new level, checking themselves out in the mirror when they smile, cry, try and push boundaries… and the Oscar for the Best Actor goes too.. drum roll….. This is at those early development stages when emotions and feelings are pretty straight forward and the hormones have not yet kicked in.

Feelings get bigger, messier, overlapping and with hormones! but the narrative, praise and guidance has stopped. We have “stroppy teens”(so wanted a kinder description! Sorry). The practice is no longer with an audience and it’s hard to practice being melancholy in your bedroom if you don’t actually know what it means..

imagine teenage me trying to look sad, endearing, cute and with great emotional depth and still please talk to me and like me and why do I just want to cry?… pfttt it was never going to work!

What is the role of our facial expressions?

We have two groups of facial expressions Conversational signals that emphasises what we are trying to convey. These expressions breaks down into

  • Illustrators – portray emphasis
  • Emblems – share communication without the word such as a wink or eye roll
  • Manipulators – such as biting lip when nervous or bowing head in shame

Next Emotional Signals that convey our feelings, like the original emoji who’d have guessed it! Classified even further into

  • Subtle – contained to one part of the face such as a sneer or eyebrow raise, trying to cover a strong emotion
  • Micro – a flash of emotion suppressed either consciously or unconsciously
  • Macro – genuine and fabricated.
    • fabricated can be False & Masked

False expressions are those that we use when we are not truly feeling that emotion for example when acting or using sarcasm… shocker!

Masked expressions are those we use to cover up how we are truly feeling for example to not show other we are disappointed or to not hurt others.

Your facial expressions say a lot

As we get older we learn to put a brave face on,  wear a mask. When parenting we pretend we are cross because we are putting down a extremely important boundary, though really we want to giggle. More often than not it’s the feelings we view as negative that we want to hide. If we do this too often and it can become unconscious we are no longer aligned with our true feeling. Our faces don’t match. Children can sense the discourse but they don’t know what it is they are sensing, other than something does not feel right or add up. They have lost their role model, the person they can trust.

Having spend hundreds of hours practicing facial expressions with children that have missed out on incidental learning or young people who are neuro-diverse, it always amazed me how difficult this can actually be to break down our facial expressions with our emotions. I remember my toddler aged only two putting a hand either side of my face and looking at me very seriously and asking “what do your eyes say?” obviously I had been caught out! What I was communicating to him was not matching. He checks out a lot especially if we have had a wobble.. “are you happy? sad or worried?” he often catches me off guard, calling out my mask.

Can you be a emotional literate intelligent role model for your child?

Take a moment and ask yourself

  • How do you feel?
  • How do you truly feel about the situation?
  • Does this match with what you think you should be portraying?
  • Is your face/body reflecting your true feelings?
  • What if presenting how you truly felt made you feel better?
  • What if your relationships strengthened with your honesty?

Give yourself permission to be authentic with your child without making them responsible for you. You are letting them know they can be authentic with you. Maybe its time we all got back to practicing in the mirror our happy, sad, melancholy faces. Because would it not be easier if the labels matched the contents.

For more informational literacy check out my growing Emotional Alphataps series on YouTube or why not check out one of my Emotional toolbox programs on Udemy.