Improving Your Child’s Social Skills: Making Eye Contact

Making eye contact in conversations is a top social skill you can help your child to learn.

Is making eye contact with other kids a problem for your child? You can help! Use simple ways to teach your child to make eye contact like asking him to look into your eyes when he requests a toy or treat, tape visual aids to your forehead and break the instructions into small steps.

We know that an inability to make eye contact during a conversation is a social deficit. It may be a barrier to your child’s success at making friends.

Take heart if this is a problem for your child. You’re not alone. Making eye contact is a basic social skill that leads to positive social interaction with others. Many children just need help grasping the skill of eye contact when speaking with others.

Reinforce Making Eye Contact

With our 12-year-old twins, my wife and I are very consistent about reinforcing eye contact. Since the boys were small, we’ve always insisted that they look us in our eyes when they ask for a toy or treat. We don’t hand it to them until they make eye contact. Then we PRAISE them every time. Try this with your child. I even make a game out of it!

Research finds that children with social skill learning challenges often require ‘direct instruction’. That means that each part of the skill is broken into smaller pieces. Making eye contact during conversations is no different.

Parenting Science website writes that for kids to get better at making friends certain skills are required that you can easily practice with your child. They also remind us that these life skills (or social skills) are not taught in one day, but over time. So we’ll all need a bit more patience…

Teaching your child the kinds of interpersonal skills that make it easier for him to make friends.

Identify the skills that you can practice with your child. Life skills such as participating in conversations and making eye contact are at the top of the list for me!

Practice How to Make Eye Contact with Your Child

“Look in my eyes.” Make sure your child establishes eye contact when he asks for something. By doing this, you’re teaching him the critical link between communication and focus. If he wants a toy say, “Look in my eyes” so that he better understands the relationship between his request and your ability to fulfill it.

Here are more ideas for practicing eye contact with your child.

Use visual aids. Tape cutouts of eyeballs on your forehead when practicing with your child. This will remind him to look at yours and other peoples’ eyes. It reinforces what eye contact is. Experiment with other aids to gently guide your child to look at your eyes. Try colored stickers placed between your eyebrows.

Apply direct instruction. Break down the rules for making eye contact into simple, age-appropriate steps for your child. For example, explaining how to use eye contact during a conversation might go something like this:

1. We always look into the eyes of the person who is talking.

2. Keep looking into the other kid’s eyes until he is finished talking.

3. If you don’t want to look into someone’s eyes, try looking at their forehead.

4. This is polite and a good thing!

5. When it’s your turn to talk, the other kids will look at you!

More small steps to help your child:

• Don’t look down at the ground when one of the kids is talking.

• Look at the eyes of the kid who is talking.

• Looking at his eyes lets him know that you’re listening.

• The other kids will feel good because you’re looking at them while they talk.

• Looking in the other kids eyes means you are interested in what he’s saying.

Praise big! PBS Therapy recommends that you reinforce your child’s positive behavior up to 25 times per day. Tell your child “I like how you look in my eyes when I’m talking to you!” Find more ways to give your child positive feedback!

Great Story About Teaching Eye Contact

Over on Baby Center Blog there’s a great story about a mom helping her daughter make eye contact. The mom realized her 9-year-old daughter, Violet, never looked other kids in the eye while playing or talking with them. It was one of the reasons her daughter was being ignored at school.

The mom reminded Violet every day about eye contact while they were walking to school and other kids said hello. Her daughter really didn’t like the reminders and complained (loudly) about being reminded.

Then Violet finally got it. Now she always makes eye contact and is forming friendships! The mom was so happy she cried! It’s a great short story about a mom’s persistence and her child’s success at making friends. You can read the full article here.

I wish you all the best with teaching your child about making eye contact! Your time will be well spent!

Dad, Developer

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