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NEW PARENTING PERSPECTIVES – Series 1

LACK OF EYE CONTACT IN KIDS

BUSTING THE MYTH ABOUT DISRESPECT

© 2010 By Deborah Beasley, ACPI CCPF

 

Myth #1:    DEMAND EYE CONTACT FROM YOUR CHILD SO YOU KNOW THEY ARE LISTENING ATTENTIVELY TO WHAT YOU SAY. 

“Look at me when I am talking to you!”

 As a parenting coach, parents sometimes express their concern to me over their child’s lack of eye contact.  Parents typically interpret a child’s lack of eye contact as a show of rudeness and disrespect.  Maintaining good eye contact is what parents are taught as the measurement of good listening.  Studies show this can be true, for the most part.  But, as any teenager, while listening to their iPod, instant messaging on the computer, AND texting their friends can tell you, “Keep talking, Mom, I can hear you!”

Myth #1- BUSTED. 

A child’s ability to have easy eye contact with the parent is a strong sign of connection and attachment.  Likewise, eye contact between a child and other children, teachers, and others in social situations signals the child’s grounded and reciprocal communication skills.  What happens when we don’t see this kind of connection from our child? Is a child’s lack of eye contact blatant disrespect or could parents be missing the real issue?    

There are many reasons for a parent not to place too much weight and stress on eye contact from their child.   Consider the following examples for possible causes of poor eye contact.

  • Shyness.   (Can begin as young as age two)  
  • Can be attached to a temperament trait (Such as a child who is deeply introspective, a thinker)
  • Age (emotional or developmental)
  • Child is intently engaged in current activity and simply needs a few minutes to make a ‘gear switch’ in his brain
  • May be part of the child’s cultural upbringing
  •  Can easily become misinterpreted in children adopted both domestically and internationally
  • A harboring of a sense of shame or guilt
  • Any degree of social anxiety  (painful self-consciousness)
  • A manifestation of internal stress
  • A manifestation of fearfulness
  • A symptom of an Auditory  or Visual Processing Disorder (Sensory input overloads the hearing and seeing centers of the brain and the child may appear as not listening or not making eye contact.  Doing so for some children is literally painful.)
  • A symptom of an emotional, developmental,  or psychological condition  (Such as Reactive Attachment Disorder or Autism)
  • May be a result of being bullied, abuse, or neglect (psychological, physical, or verbal)
  • Is a typical symptom of childhood trauma

As parents, our personal frustrations over thinking our child is refusing to listen can cloud our parental vision.  This gives rise to emotional reactivity toward our child’s misinterpreted behavioral responses.   Sometimes, it takes dumping the conditioned responses we heard from our parents when we were kids to avoid the impulse of jumping to a quick and inaccurate conclusion.   Can you adopt a new parenting perspective on the issue of poor eye contact in children?

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