Jatau_Smile_Large

A Smile Goes a Long Way

Author: Z. Andrew Jatau
Published Date: Tuesday, April 24, 2018

By: Z. Andrew Jatau MS, LPC

Around this time last year, I gave a presentation titled “Creating a Culture of Kindness.” The workshop discussed the importance of the parent’s role in promoting kindness in the home. During this presentation, I showed a video clip from a study called the Still Face Experiment. In the video, a mother positively engages with her infant for a few seconds, and then she looks away. When she turns back, she has a blank expression and does not respond to her baby’s attempts to communicate and play. In less than a minute, the baby becomes visibly distressed by the lack of expression in his mother’s face, and he makes several attempts to engage her, like smiling, pointing, and finally – screeching. The video highlights the effect a parent’s emotional expression (or lack thereof) can have on a child even at such a young age.

I first saw this clip while I was in training, before I had any kids. After watching it, I vowed never to have a blank expression like that with my own children. The presenter that day also made a comment that stuck with me. He said that though we may not deliberately give our children the still face, oftentimes during tasks, such as changing a diaper, we might come across as detached or even distressed. As a parent, this could be because you are stressed from work, upset at having to do the task, or exhausted because it’s two o’clock in the morning and you just changed a diaper a few minutes ago. Regardless of how we feel, our infants take in information from our emotional expressions that can impact their attachment and sense of security.

Since having children, I’ve made an effort to be more mindful of my facial expressions and body language. As Keira gets older, she is developing an ability to understand feelings by reading social cues. She’ll look at me and ask, “Daddy, are you happy?” and I am able to tell her “yes” or “no,” and we can talk about feelings. With Eliza, I am more aware of the impact of my facial expressions and body language. Every diaper change, I wear a huge smile and try to engage playfully with her. Even on days when I might be frustrated or stressed out, I remind myself that even though this may be a small interaction, a smile in the moment will go a long way.

To learn more about the importance of positive interactions with your infants and toddlers, attend CHKD’s Imperfect Parenting workshop. Register at CHKD.org/Classes.



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About Z. Andrew Jatau

I currently work as a mental health counselor at my private practice in Virginia Beach. In 2015, I founded a business called Mylemarks that focuses on creating tools for healthy social and emotional development in children. I have also authored three workbooks for the company. When I’m not working, I enjoy hanging with the family, playing or watching sports, and listening to music.