Category Archives: Telling Stories

Using Body Language in children’s stories and storytelling

Altogether now – Using Body Language in children’s stories and storytelling

In this chapter on body language and story telling with children, we have covered:

Remember that you can convey so many feelings, attitudes and actions with your body.

Apart from expressing emotion, you can use your body to act out character’s descriptions or episodes within the story.

Bring your whole body into the story and you are onto a winning storytelling technique.

For example, how would you act out a cowboy galloping along on his horse?

This would probably involve your legs, your arms and moving your whole body in imitation of the rider.

Bring your pirate to life by closing one eye to illustrate his patched eye, clench your fist and stick out a hooked finger for his ‘hook’ hand, and limp along for his peg leg.

How would you act out a Ninja? You might do karate chops and raise your leg into the air as well as jerky head movements.

If in doubt, why not ask your kids!?

Engaging your whole body in storytelling requires a little time and effort, but is very fulfilling for your child as it creates dynamic, dramatic, larger-than-life characters who are fun to watch and whose actions become far more convincing.

By including body language and a bit of theatre into your story, your child will really feel you are communicating with them on their level of understanding, no matter how old they are.

By teaching your child how to understand and recognise body language and emotive gestures, you train your child to have the necessary social skills that will guide them through the social experiences they will have outside of their home.

You can teach them to understand how people act and what they really mean, despite the words they use.

Teaching children positivity though body language and story telling

You can also teach them how to become a more successful person, by using body language to express positivity.

“The use of nonverbal signal for expressing positive attitudes is an important social skill. Those people who say that they are lonely or who are rated by others as socially unskilled are found in laboratory encounters to look, smile and gesture less than other people.”

Bodily Communication, Michael Argyle

 You want to do right by your child. You want to teach them to be the best that they can be and to realise their full potential.

Children learn to work with successfully with others through the interpretation of body language.

Give them a strong foundation and show them how to harness this valuable social skill.

Your child can take these social skills into the playground, into school and later into their teenage years when the sense of ‘self’ and the relationship to others becomes magnified and scrutinized, on into their professional lives.

In Summary

Remember, your body language is a multi-faceted tool to help you entertain and teach your child. Turn your time with your child into an entertaining and educational experience that they will never forget and keep gaining huge reward from.

You can do it. Have faith in yourself and your kids.

There is one final email in this course and that is to congratulate you for completing it and it also gives you links to all the articles in the series so you can dip in and out and remind yourself of the storytelling homework you skipped.

The use of Body Language in telling a story

Put your best foot forward – Using body language in storytelling

“It was THIS big!!”

I think that everyone is pretty familiar with that stereotypical fisherman’s story complete with hands-wider-than-physically-possible-to-reach gesture.

While our response is undoubtedly a “oh yeah…” accompanied by a roll of the eyes and sideways smirk at our companion listener or a chummy dig in the ribs of the boastful fisherman, there is also no denying that the gesticulation and vehemence of the way the story is told is certainly a contributing factor of how much we believe the person and regardless: It absolutely makes the fisherman’s tale more fun and engaging to listen to.

Telling a story with the addition of body language is a very powerful storytelling technique

Dramatisation is the secret ingredient that boosts good storytelling into great storytelling.

When something is important to us, we want to make sure that our tale and accompanying point is understood, believed and incorporated.

Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, deep down, we know the lasting impact those gesticulations have on how people understand us, even if we’ve hardly said a thing!

Actions (can) speak louder than words in the right story setting

We don’t want to lose any opportunity to convey our desired meaning, and we deliberately adjust our own body language and actions in order to do so.

Equally, we too read people’s body language and gestures to help us understand the real meaning of what they’re communicating to us.

Body language encompasses the movement of arms and legs, body posture, the manner in which you sit, walk, your facial expressions, eye movements and regular gestures such as stroking your hair, touching your nose, etc.

Over 50% (yes, fifty) of any communication between humans is done through gesture and body language

The precise figure tends to vary depending on which study you read, but they all agree that more than half of the meaning and substance of a human to human interaction is done through the language of our body.

Interestingly, these studies also generally agree that less than 10% of the meaning of a conversation is conveyed through the words that we use.

That means that around 40% of the meaning of any conversation is down to how we use our voice: Its tone, volume and pitch.

With body language we capture attention, create atmosphere, emotion, and draw in our audience.

The grimace on a storyteller’s face and their recoil from the floor in front of them tell you exactly how unpleasant stepping into the pig sty was!

The inflating chest and wide arms tell you just how deep and thunderous the breaths of the big bad wolf are as he huffs and puffs!

It is the dainty way you hold out your hands and the standing-on-tip-toes and hunching over that tells you just how quietly the town mouse and country mouse crept into the kitchen.

It’s the nonverbal part of storytelling that ensnares the imagination and engages the senses.

It also happens to be a lot of fun to do!

In this chapter we are going to discuss the following techniques:

“I speak two languages, Body and English.”

Mae West

Toning down your storytelling technique

Toning down your storytelling technique

So far in this series, we’ve spent a lot of time encouraging you to build your storytelling techniques. We told you to make your facial expressions bigger. We told you that you need to make yourself clear because your children are mirroring your experience. We told you to make your voice louder and faster (or slower) and to bring in sound effects and even when to perform an evil, high pitched cackle. Now we’re telling you to tone it down. WTF!?

Do you remember being told ghost stories while camping in your garden growing up?

Do you remember the time when Dad over did the scariness of the story and you spent the whole night awake, jumping at the slightest sound or even having to give up on the whole camping idea for the safety of brick walls and your duvet? I know I do.

When you can see your children are approaching their limit before they become truly frightened and you have overdone the suspense factor, change your ‘scared’ face from a serious one to one of flair and ridiculousness, and he or she will be in no doubt that you are acting it up for their benefit.

This is a great way to disarm the intensity of feelings without stopping the story.

In this way being a ‘caricature’ will distinguish your ‘storytelling’ face from your ‘natural’ face so your audience can differentiate between your ‘real’ emotions, and ‘story time’ emotions.

Finding the balance of storytelling techniques is where true mastery comes in

Kids love to find that line between what is comfortable and what is not.

It’s why they are disobedient or seemingly deliberately break the rules.

An audience of young people will be absolutely desperate for you to terrify the wits out of them.

But they don’t really want to be scared witless.

They want to find the edge.

That invisible and elusive no-mans-land between comfortable, uncomfortable and too-far.

Judge it right and you’re the ultimate story teller and will hence forth be known in your kids’ circle of friends as said weaver of worlds and caster of dreams.

Judge it wrong and you’re either rubbish or too intense/scary/silly (you can put your own extremes in here).

Control the intensity of your story by using exaggerated or caricatured expressions.

You have been warned.

You are the best judge of your own kids, to know when they will be emotionally ready to deal with whatever emotion is involved in the story without being overwhelmed by it.

As a side point, even as adults we don’t cease to continue to find that balance point. Take the strange western obsession with horror films for example. Why would someone watch that stuff voluntarily? It’s terrifying! Personally, I’d much rather jump out of a plane…

Storytelling homework

This is perhaps where true storytelling mastery comes in. If you can find a balance in all the techniques we’ve talked about and tailor them to the specific situation, specific story, specific audience and leave them thrilled (but not terrified or over excited or sobbing with tears) then you have no need of this series and you can move on to creating your own stories to tell.

  • Practice
  • Practice
  • Ask for feedback. What did your kids think of the story? Was there anything that stood out for them?
  • Experiment. Try something completely different or off-the-wall and see what kind of response you get.
  • Practice
  • Share your experiences so that we can all learn from it and similarly, checkout others’ storytelling experiences and learn from their mistakes/triumphs.
  • Re-read all the Magical Storytelling series. I bet you there’s stuff in here you’ve already fogotten or somehow missed the first time round.

Have you learnt something new over the past few emails? Leave us comments and tell us what’s changed in your storytelling.

In case you were wondering, this is not the end of the course!

There’s more!!

Just wait for the next chapter on using your whole body in your stories!

Eye contact in storytelling

Eye contact in storytelling

Eye contact is a strong storytelling technique and a great one to use when telling a story

Your son has done something naughty.

They are angry and confrontational, with fists in little balls and feet stamping in protest.

You crouch down to their eye level and inform your child that their behaviour is unacceptable.

He shakes his head, tears flying, eyes on the floor and arms folded.

The natural reaction in this scenario is for your child to avoid eye contact you.

Avoiding eye contact is the natural human reaction when we don’t want to communicate with someone.

Have you ever deliberately avoided eye contact because you didn’t want someone to notice you or to talk to you?

Now you can see the impression you will give your audience, if you do not create or maintain eye contact during story time.

You may not intend it, but withholding eye contact will only serve to tell them that you are not interested in communicating with them.

While your child is snuggled in close to you during storytelling, they want you to be a weaver of dreams.

If you’re staring over their head at the wall, or your eyes are zoned only on the pages you are reading, they won’t feel fully connected to either you, or to the story.

It is easy to assume that because you’re snuggled together and you’re both looking at the book together that they don’t need eye contact. They do.

Eyes can glare, smoulder, gaze, twinkle, shine and show sincerity.

There is a completely separate level of communication coming from your eyes. So reach out to your child by maintaining eye contact.

It’s equally important for you to be monitoring and enjoying your audience’s reaction to your story.

Storytelling is an activity that is a bonding exercise for both of you. If your child is truly engaged in your story, they will mirror your facial expression, reflecting those expressions they see on your face. You also need to ensure your child has not become afraid or confused.

If you are asking your child to participate in the story, maintain eye contact with them as they speak.

If your kids are young, they may still be trying to find the words they need. They will look to you for encouragement, so ensure you are keeping supportive eye contact, as it will encourage your child to keep going, and ultimately help your child to successfully contribute to the story.

Your child needs your affirmation and approval, even as they stumble over words or phrases.

A supportive look is as warm to your child as a bear hug.

Storytelling homework

You know that eye contact is important. Sometimes you can make eye contact, other times it’s not practical. Practice it. Make it part of your conscious effort at making the most of the stories you’re sharing with your kids.

  • Telling a story to a group of children, ensure that you regularly make eye contact with each child.
  • It may not be obvious, but if you are constantly excluding one child from your gaze unintentionally, that child will notice your behaviour and feel that exclusion.
  • If you’re reading to more than one child, try to spend equal time making eye contact with each child (though there’s no need to take out a stop watch!)
  • If your child is speaking, make and maintain eye contact with them.
  • While not strictly a storytelling technique, if your child is crying or naughty, wait until they’ve calmed down enough to meet your eyes before telling them the right way to do whatever it is.

Head back to the chapter introduction and keep an eye on your inbox for the next section on toning down your dramatics having just told you to beef them up. Confusing? It’s all about mastery. Just wait and see!

Storytelling Technique – A picture paints a thousand words

Storytelling Technique – A picture paints a thousand words

What you might spend three sentences explaining, you can often convey in a single expression.

A flirtatious glance speaks volumes – louder than any words that could possibly be said.

in storytelling for children, a picture paints a thousand words. Learn to make those pictures through your facial expressions

Don’t we all recognise the look of love?

How would you define the emotion jealousy to a child, distinguishing it from the emotion wanting something?

How easily jealousy can be conveyed with a facial expression!

Try it now.

(OK, maybe that’s not such an easy one, but I’m sure you get the idea)

Think of how you would show a “jealous” face. Draw upon your experience and memory to find an example of when you’ve seen someone looking jealous.

Can you replicate it?

Maybe take advantage and pull a jealous face next time you pass a mirror. Your friends will think you have issues and if they wonder what you’re doing, tell them to sign up to the course and try it for themselves!

Instead of breaking the charm of your story, you can improve the clarity and simplicity of your tale as you focus on sowing the story, instead of explaining what the characters’ feelings mean, since your child has already understood by implication from your expression.

Remember too, that facial expressions are not just for dialogue.

The tone of the story is also set by your facial expressions in the parts between the characters speaking.

Your child should be engaged and enjoy the whole story, from beginning to end, so make it magical by telling what happened next with as much vigour and expression as have for the speech of the characters.

When you tell a story, try to get a good range of emotions into the story, but particularly opposites. Most often as human beings, we understand something better when in contrast to its opposite.

Fairy tales are particularly successful at using this tactic, having an evil unhappy queen and a good happy princess, moving from a dangerous situation where the emotions reverse, to a safe resolution.

Contrast makes for a more interesting plot and colourful characters.

Ghost stories for older children are a great place to practice the facial expressions of terror and surprise

As your child grows out of fairy tales, you may move on to telling adventure stories or ghost stories.

These stories offer the opportunity to explore another range of social situations, emotions, reactions and facial expressions.

For these types of stories, you can use facial expressions to build suspense, drama, danger, conspiracy, and to heighten shock, awe, suspicion, and incredulity amongst others.

The facial expression you adopt will automatically influence the tone of your voice.

Since we as grown adults have our expressions and emotions thoroughly matched and rehearsed, your voice will naturally change according to your facial expression.

Try saying something truly angry with a smile on your face – it’s extremely difficult! So vary your facial expressions by character and by emotion.

Consider the phrase:


  • If you say it with a wide eyed shocking face, your voice automatically follows with a “shocked” pitch and tone and it becomes a mechanism to scare, shock and delight.
  • If you say it with a sad face, it becomes the voice of a not-very-scary sad old bear who’s a bit fed up and needs cheering up by his friends.

Having a neutral face will make your voice sound… Well, neutral and expressionless.

Even when narrating a bland character doing ordinary things, you can spice this up by giving that character a crazy expression so that everything they do becomes funny, ridiculous or strange.

The timing of your facial expressions is extremely important within the context of your story.

As you reach the climax of your story, and the suspense is at its highest point, you may pause to excite your child and savour the moment.

This is a great time to adopt an appropriate expression, be it shock, surprise, fear or even a deadpan expression if your story is funny.

Storytelling homework

Hopefully you’ve read the previous section on mirroring and social referencing as a storytelling technique and you’re ready to try putting some of the ideas from this section into practice as well.

The homework from this section adds to the previous, so spend more time getting this right with your kids. It’s really important.

  • Identify the emotions and think about how you can represent them in a single face.
  • Practice (or play, depending on how you look at it) pulling faces for different emotions and characters.
  • Start noticing the subtle differences between types of emotion or even within the same emotion (scared vs terror as an obvious example)

Once you’ve read this section, head back to the chapter intro: Why facial expression is important in storytelling

Storytelling technique – Telling the story with your face

Storytelling technique – Telling the story with your face

Telling the story through your facial expressions is a fantastic storytelling technique and one that forms this article and the second part (painting a picture using facial expressions)

We (well, most of us) don’t speak like an expressionless robot.

We already communicate with a set of natural facial expressions that we invoke involuntarily, but we become particularly expressive when we voice our emotions.

So, if it’s a natural process, why do you need to learn anything about how to do it?

Well, a story is a pretend scenario and since you are putting on a special voice, you suddenly have to become aware of conscious and deliberate expressions, which can be difficult to do, since your natural facial expressions are unconsciously done.

Using your face is essential in getting the essence of the story across to your kids

A young child is inexperienced and is still learning what it means to be happy, sad, frustrated, bored etc. Your natural facial expressions may be quite subtle; it may be difficult for them to discern a happy smile, from a sad smile.

They may just see a smile, and the sad tone of your voice may then confuse the child.

When your child is confused, they will tend to ask you to clarify:

“Is the boy scared, mummy?”

Exageration and clarity in your facial expression

When telling your tale, think of yourself as a “caricature” of the character you are portraying.

Your facial expressions should be over-exaggerated and dramatic.

This is as much for the entertainment factor as the educational one.

Combine volume, pitch, speed and your expression to make a chilren's story come to life. OH MY GOD ARE THOSE MAGGOTS!!???

Remember that your child’s face is like an exaggerated version of the truth when they portray a strong emotion.

Children are full of drama, scrunching up their faces and noses when they are angry or grinning from ear to ear if you agree to play with them.

Your dramatic and exaggerated facial expressions will bring your story into 3D for your child.

As your child grows older, you can use a set of more complex emotions in your storytelling – disgust, shame, embarrassment or satisfaction, for example.

These are more complex to visualise and understand and will progress your child’s education of emotional intelligence further.

Think of some faces you could pull right now. Go on. Set yourself a challenge: think of five different faces you could exagerate to really show what you feel.

It’s harder to come up with faces with no reference, so the reading stories with your children is where you’ll really get the most benefit as you’ll have an almost constant stream of emotional concepts being given to you from within the book.

Storytelling homework

In the next dew stories you tell your children, focus on:

  • Exagerating your facial expressions to make it really clear what the emotion looks like.
  • Think about making different characters have different permenant facial expressions so that as they talk your face is pulled into different shapes depending on the attitude of the character you’re representing.
  • Think about exagerating specific expressions to make them funny or particularly dramatic
  • Have fun and enjoy making silly faces with your kids!

 Done your homework already? Head back to the start of the chapter or keep an eye on your inbox for the next part: A picture paints a thousand words.

Using your bodylanguage and facial expressions to teach children – Mirroring

Using your bodylanguage and facial expressions to teach children – Mirroring

You are telling your child a story in which you are hoping to teach them a lesson in acceptable behaviour.

Your child is watching you intently.

She is mirroring your emotional reaction to the story, and learning from it.

 A great way to teach children what response is appropriate to a situation is to show them so they can mirror your response and learn.

Social Referencing

Children learn how to react to situations based on their parents’ facial expressions.

This is known to psychologists as “social referencing”.

Apart from “emotional intelligence” as the correct assessment of the emotion being conveyed, social referencing is another hugely important aspect of children’s learning from facial expressions.

In storytelling, children use the emotional intelligence skills that have been developed to identify what your reaction to a given social situation is. This identification will often be by means of your facial expression.

The expressions you portray in reaction to the events of a story as you narrate it, help your child to socially reference that situation and understand how they too, should react to it.

They follow you, their social and emotional guide.

Once your child has correctly assessed your emotion and identified your emotional reaction with a social situation, they start to accumulate a mental “toolkit”.

These are behavioural tools that they use when presented with these social situations in a real environment.

Children do not look to everyone to provide social referencing.

Most often they look to you, their parent.

“…children are more likely to accept information from a trusted source; when a novel ambiguous object, a remote-controlled black spider, was introduced…children were more likely to respond appropriately to their mother’s reactions of fear or of happiness than they were to respond to the stranger’s reactions. That is, they considered the source of the information when deciding whether to accept it.”

Social referencing as a function of information source: Mothers versus Strangers. Infant Behavior & Development.
Zarbatany and Lamb.

You provide the most important visual cues to your child, and so you need to be aware of yourself, and constantly ensure that your emotional reactions to episodes or characters of the story are what you want your child to learn from you.

When your child is very young, stories based around simple emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear and anger and common social situations will teach your child what is OK and what is not Ok.

To play with other children makes the character, and you by proxy, “happy”. However, to refuse to share toys makes the character, and you by proxy, “unhappy” – but when this character eventually agrees to share, happiness is restored.

As your child grows older, and you use more complex emotions and more complex social situations, your child will learn specifics around how to act and react.

If, for example, in your story, the little girl steps on a piece of trash, her reaction may be “Eeew! Yucky!”

Here your facial expression will indicate that this is disgusting, and your child will learn that rubbish in turn is disgusting. Equally, her reaction to the little boy who threw the rubbish might also be disgust. Your child has now learned that rubbish and throwing rubbish onto the ground, are both unfavourable things. The little girl may tell the little boy that throwing rubbish is not allowed, with a happy smile and a kind voice. Your child now understands what attitude to adopt when faced with someone who throws rubbish.

Utilize this knowledge of social referencing as a means to teach your child about situations and emotions they have not yet encountered.

Studies show that a child will not necessarily accept your social referencing response as their own response if they have some experience of the object in question already.

According to one study, children “accepted [social referencing] only when the information did not contradict their own understanding of the situation and of their own abilities.”

Children’s Selective Learning from Others.
Nurmsoo, Robinson & Butterfill

The implication here is clear:

You as a parent need to mold your child’s attitudes and perceptions before they encounter the situation for themselves.

Make sure they adopt your reaction as learned, rather than forming their own opinion first and then rejecting your attitude.

Following on from that, it becomes apparent how important the continuation of storytelling and the use of social referencing is as children grow, as you try to keep apace of their past experiences and attitudes and the attitudes you want to teach for likely future experiences.

Storytelling homework

There’s a lot of evidence to point to just how important facial expression and your ability to remain consistent and believable is to your child’s development and I can put some of the difficulties and arguments with my daughter down as direct consequence of where I/we haven’t been consitent in our attitude/approach and she (quite rightly) is confused or has made up her own mind as to the proper attitude.

In the next couple of weeks:

  • Become aware of the facial gestures you use. Feel when you raise your eyebrows or furrow your brow. Notice when you smile with your mouth and when you smile with your face.
  • Keep an eye open for whom your child seems to trust and use as reference (who do they look/go to when they’re not sure of the situation). This will tell you who your child is using as a social reference. By The Way, this applies throughout life – can you think of a friend/aquiantance who could be described as a “do as I say not as I do” kind of person?
  • When you’re reading books or stories with your kids, notice who the social references are in the book. Which characters seem to take the behavioural lead and which follow? What could you take from those characters and use in your own stories?
  • When telling stories, remember that your response is the reference for your audience, so make sure you’re clear about what you want them to learn from it.

Remember you can head back to the chapter introduction on facial expression and masks in storytelling any time.

Facial Expressions and Masks in Storytelling

The story is written all over your face

Making faces while telling stories is an absolutely essential skill to master as a storytelling technique.

Let’s set the scene…

A great storytelling technique to master: facial gestures and masks

It’s holiday time and the family are camping in the forest, enjoying nature, the outdoors and the fresh air.

As night draws in, the kids wrap themselves in their coats and gather round, closer to the snapping and crackling camp fire; marshmallows speared on the ends of freshly cut sticks from the afternoon’s walk.

Your children gather close, feeling the camaraderie of each other’s presence as they huddle together in anticipation for that timeless camping classic: the ghost story.

As the breeze makes the trees around them shush gently, a hush falls over them and your eyes twinkle as you gaze intently at each of them in turn, setting the mood for the tale.

Your face is a picture of danger, drama and suspense.

You draw a breath, and begin…

 In this chapter on facial expression in storytelling

  • Facing the truth – How and why using facial expressions, gestures and masks are important for our children regardless of them being included in story time.
  • Watching and learning – The importance of facial expression as a way of teaching emotional intelligence.
  • A picture paints a thousand words – How ours and our children’s faces show precisely the emotion behind it and how you can master this to bring a story to life.
  • Toning it down – A cautionary reminder that while we’re aiming to bring our stories to life, sometimes not being real is the just as important. Also a side note on storytelling with children with autism
  • Eye Contact – As a storytelling technique to engage and draw in your audience, eye contact is essential and surprisingly easy to master.


Paul Ekman's books are seminary in learning about facial expressions

Paul Ekman’s books and “Facial Action Coding System” (FACS) are well worth finding out more about if you’re interested in bodylanguage and learning to read people (children and adults) more easily.

It is a widely held that the most important and common, and strongest, nonverbal communication is through your facial expressions.

In the art of storytelling, facial expressions are a most crucial companion to how you use your voice.

Lucky they are an innate characteristic of human expression as we speak. So, in this chapter we will explore:

  • Children’s perceptions of facial expressions and why it is so important to use them.
  • Emotional Intelligence – teaching your child to identify emotions from facial expression.
  • Social referencing and how to use it – how your child learns from your facial expressions.
  • Using your face to tell the story and maintain the flow of your story
  • How becoming a caricature of yourself will improve your story and your child’s sense of security.
  • Eye contact – the effects of neglecting this important means of facial expression.

Information at face value

The importance of facial gestures, expressions and masks as storytelling techniques

You’ve just found out you are going to become a parent…

You – you – are going to become a parent!

A waterfall of emotions flood you; excitement, fear and everything in between.

Your partner’s eyes are fixed firmly on you, scouring your face for your reaction, gleaning everything they can from your eyes, your mouth – your expression.

There are tears glistening in your eyes.

Your partner is wondering – are they happy tears or sad tears?

You smile.

Facing the truth

Our emotions are naturally drawn out on our faces and thus are the most important form of non-verbal communication.

Often, words cannot even do justice to the complexity and strength of the feelings you can express with your face.

Facial expressions are such a giveaway to a person’s emotions that sometimes we even try to hide our true feelings by restraining our facial expressions

Without facial expressions, a story becomes a flat, limp narration instead of a magical and engaging tale.

You will look just plain bored and disinterested.

Apart from perhaps feeling a perceived unwillingness to spend time with them, your child will be concentrating on you telling the story, instead of being ‘in’ the story in their imagination.

They will be aware that a story is being told to them – seemingly begrudgingly – instead of being transported off in their imagination, out of their bedroom and into the magical land you are describing.

If your face shows no wonderment, you can’t expect to convince your child that it is wonderful.

Read about the specifics of facial expression and gesture in storytelling

The following are all sections in this chapter. Keep a close eye on your email inbox and read each one in turn and practice the storytelling homework. You’ll never realise just how much goes into a the telling of a story. We have linked in the first section on why facial expression is important in stories and children’s growth for your interest.

  • Facing the truth – How and why using facial expressions are important for our children’s growth.
  • Holding it up – Understanding mirroring and social referencing and their role in storytelling.
  • Watching and learning – Teach emotional intelligence through facial expression in your stories.
  • A picture paints a thousand words – Use your face to paint a picture richer than words in your children’s stories.
  • Toning it down – Finding the balance between story and reality and storytelling with autistic kids.
  • Eye Contact – Master this storytelling technique and you’ll have your audience in the palm of your hand.

Why facial expression is important in storytelling

Why facial expression is important in storytelling

Everybody knows that your facial expression is important in making your stories come to life, but why?

According to a Harvard University study, the ability to understand emotions, known as emotional intelligence, is linked intrinsically to being able to understand facial expression.

“Emotional intelligence—the ‘accurate appraisal and expression of emotions in oneself and others and the regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living’… encompasses a set of interrelated skills and processes. Because the face is the primary canvas used to express distinct emotions nonverbally … the ability to read facial expressions is particularly vital, and thus a crucial component of emotional intelligence.”

Emotional Intelligence and the Recognition of Emotion from facial Expression. Elbenfein, Marsh & Ambady

There are many ways to work with your child to increase emotional intelligence.

For children, one of the optimum ways of learning this skill – the correct appraisal of the feelings of others – is through learning the meanings of facial expressions in stories.

This allows the child to practice identifying and ‘trying on’ facial expressions in a safe environment. They can experiment with fear, with danger, with surprise, with confusion; with jealousy…the list is endless.

Encourage your child to show you the face of the angry lion, of the sad swan, of the happy bear finding the pot of honey.

By doing this, you are teaching and preparing your child for the world around them.

You are helping them to ‘read’ the faces of the people around them, and this in turn helps your child to understand what social behaviours should be encouraged in these situations.

According to a recent study,

“The ability to recognize facial expressions at age 5 has been found to predict later social and academic competence.”

Recognizing Emotion from Facial Expressions: Psychological and Neurological Mechanisms. Ralph Adolphs. University of Iowa College of Medicine.

We all want our children to go out into the world best prepared to deal with the people and society around them.

Therefore we should use facial expressions in storytelling as a means of effectively educating our children to become emotionally developed and aware human beings.

OK, so there’s a lot of techniques and things to know about facial expression in storytelling, so keep an eye on your inbox for the following sections which break it down a bit and give you some key things to focus on:

  • How children mirror our behaviour and how you can use it in storytelling using the power of social referencing
  • How your face tells a story and how to use it (part 1)
  • A picture paints a thousand words – using your face to bring a story to life (part 2)
  • Eye contact in storytelling – can be difficult in a snuggle, but fine tuning it can make a great storyteller
  • Toning down your skills for your audience – you don’t want to overdo it
  • A note on storytelling and children with autism (relevant though not specifically part of this series on storytelling techniques)

You can also return to the chapter introduction – facial expressions and masks in storytelling – at any time

A Note on storytelling for children who have autism

Children with autism often cannot understand facial expression

There is much importance put on the ability of the storyteller to be able to make the right faces but it is a common feature of autism spectrum disorders, that children with autism not be able to discern the emotion from facial expressions, finding it hard to distinguish the meaning of a smile from a frown.

Storytelling with children with autism can be difficult. There is plenty of literature and places to find help however

Continue reading A Note on storytelling for children who have autism