How to Improve Online Communication in Child Sleep Consultation – Decoding Emoji Usage

Jessica LeeChild Sleep Consultant

Hello fellow Child Sleep Consultants,

In our line of work, we understand how vital effective communication with parents is to building trust, offering support, and ultimately ensuring the best outcomes for the children we care for. The current digital age we live in brings a new dimension to communication – the realm of emails, instant messaging apps, and social media platforms.

The subtleties of face-to-face conversation, the reassuring nods, warm smiles, and empathetic hand gestures are often absent in the digital world, leaving our words to do all the heavy lifting. To fill this gap, we often resort to the universal language of emojis, those small, digital symbols that convey our emotions when words fall short. But how effectively are we using these colourful symbols? Are there unspoken rules about the use of emojis that we are unaware of?

Recently, I’ve come across an enlightening paper titled “Smile Back at Me, But Only Once: Social Norms of Appropriate Nonverbal Intensity and Reciprocity Apply to Emoji Use,” published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior on February 16, 2023. The insights from the paper struck a chord with me, and I believe they can benefit us all in enhancing our digital communication with parents.

1. The Sweet Spot of Emoji Use

One of the experiments conducted in the paper explores how many emojis in a message could tip the scale from friendly to overwhelming. Imagine someone in a face-to-face conversation, constantly making exaggerated facial expressions – feels a bit much, right? That’s how a text loaded with emojis can come across in the digital world.

So, what’s the ideal balance? 

According to the study, when messages were loaded with four emojis after every sentence, recipients felt a bit overwhelmed. As a rule of thumb, a single emoji after a sentence seems to strike a good balance, as it keeps the tone friendly without going overboard

For example, when reassuring parents about their child’s sleep patterns, a message like “Don’t worry, this is completely normal πŸ™‚” would work well.

2. The Power of Reciprocity

Another discovery from the paper is the idea of emoji reciprocity. We often mirror the type of emoji used by the other person. That is, if someone sends us a message with an emoji, we’re more likely to respond with an emoji. It’s almost like smiling back when someone smiles at us. This can be a great tool for us to connect better with parents. It helps to align the emotional tone of our conversation.

For instance, if a parent shares the good news that “Peter slept through the night! πŸ₯³”, responding with an emoji, like “That’s fantastic news! Keep up the great work! 😊” could foster a friendly rapport.
If a parent sends a positive message like, “We managed to follow the sleep plan today! πŸ™‚”, mirroring their positivity with a matching emoji, for instance, “Great job, keep it up! πŸ‘”, could underscore the encouraging and supportive tone of our message.

3. Maintaining Professionalism

Though reciprocating with emojis can enhance our connection with parents, it’s essential to remember our professional context. As the study highlights, an excess of emojis can make us seem less serious or professional. It’s a bit like wearing a clown suit to a business meeting. So while an occasional emoji can add warmth to our messages, let’s remember to keep it within the bounds of professionalism.

Emojis are a great addition to our digital communication toolkit. Used wisely, they can make our conversation more personal and relatable, building stronger connections with the parents we work with. I hope these insights and examples help you to use emojis more effectively in your interactions. Remember, as with many things in life, moderation is key.

How to Become a Child Sleep Consultant?

Working as a child sleep consultant is more than just a job. It’s an opportunity to apply your understanding, empathy, and communication skills to significantly improve the quality of life for young families in your community. In this profession, you stand beside families in times of struggle, offering expert guidance and actionable solutions when they’re dealing with sleep issues. If this resonates with your personal values, you can become a baby sleep consultant. Review our programs for more information.


Stein, JP. Smile Back at Me, But Only Once: Social Norms of Appropriate Nonverbal Intensity and Reciprocity Apply to Emoji Use. J Nonverbal Behav 47, 245–266 (2023).