Most children (and adults too) need us to stop what we are doing from time to time and give them eye contact and our undivided attention.
Our sensitivity to eye contact begins incredibly early. Infants of just two days of age prefer looking at faces that gaze back at them. Similarly, recordings of the brain activity of four-month-olds show that they process gazing faces more deeply than faces that are looking away; and at 7-months, infants’ brains process eye contact differently from averted gaze even when the eyes are shown for just 50ms – far too quick for any kind of conscious awareness.https://digest.bps.org.uk/2016/11/28/the-psychology-of-eye-contact-digested/
The pressure on parents can be a lot though, as the demands on our time can be overwhelming. Not to mention the expectation to multi-task, which can get us out of the habit of focusing on just one thing at a time. Many of us can get so caught up in the busyness of life, that it can be hard to slow down even when we want to. There was an article in TulsaKids a while back where a parenting expert, Erin Kurt, discussed this. She said children have four basic things that communicate love to them:
- Physical touch
- Eye contact
- Focused attention
Acknowledging the pressure, however, just try to check off each one at least once a day. The point is not to make building a better habit guilt-ridden or overwhelming; or to feel like you have to be perfectly present all day, every day. It’s best to start with small things that you can achieve easily each day, and then just be intentional about doing those things. For example, challenge yourself to make eye contact every day when you say “good morning”. Or make it fun, and have a staring contest with your child! Celebrate your successes and then build on them. Don’t beat yourself up if you get distracted while your child is telling you about their day. It’s ok to say “I got distracted, can we please try again because what you are saying is important to me.”
Some other considerations:
We recognize that eye contact plays different roles in different cultures. Also differently-abled children may process eye contact differently. The point is making a connection every day that your child receives as being the center of your attention.
Also, the most preferred length for eye contact in a study was just three seconds! That’s all it takes!
In addition, while most adults naturally look away to process intense thoughts, children sometimes children need to be taught to disengage from eye contact to think through information if they are having trouble.
Whatever you do, just remember, it will be better than Joey’s weird eye contact thing: