Realising the communicative potential of eye contact is a fundamental stepping stone to experiencing positive interactions with others.
Not only does eye contact suggest to someone that you are listening, but it can also be used to get someone’s attention or direct them to something. Eye contact is essential for early joint-attention, which is an early communicative stage where both you and your child are sharing a period of attention to the same thing.
Joint attention is crucial for language development. It is in these brief moments of shared attention that we can begin to make reference to the objects name, i.e. when you are both looking toward a ball you may say ‘ball’. Through consistency and repetition your child will begin to associate the word ‘ball’ with the object that both of you are looking at. Joint attention creates a platform for sharing experiences and sharing knowledge, but for this to happen we first need to recognise the importance of eye-contact.
Below are 5 tips and tricks we can use to encourage eye-contact.
For younger children you may want to use ‘cause and effect’ style games. For example, you hold bubbles next to your face and you don’t blow them until your child makes eye-contact with you. In this instance the child is learning that through eye contact they can influence others, which, in itself, is communicative.
Remember! Always give specific feedback. Try ‘I like the way you looked at me’ or ‘nice looking’, this way your child knows exactly what it is that you are looking for (excuse the pun).
Try hide and seek games where the only clue you and your child can give one another is via your eyes.
This will reinforce to your child the power and communicative potential of eye contact.
With older children you may feel that simply explaining ‘why’ eye-contact is important, or providing ‘rules’ may be enough to encourage more eye contact. For children who do not naturally make eye contact or recognise the need, it may be worth reminding them to…
- Look into the eyes of the person who is talking
- Do this until the person has finished talking
- Remind them it is the polite thing to do
- Use eye contact as a cue, i.e. when the other children look at you, it usually means they want you to talk
- When someone looks away they may be; embarrassed, offended, bored etc
Don’t be afraid to look silly! For those children who are a little forgetful when it comes to making eye contact, why not give them a friendly visual reminder by sticking eyes on your forehead or their favourite character!
This tip is great for those children who report anxiety or distress when making eye contact. Encouraging them to look at someone’s forehead is a helpful trick for preventing any discomfort whilst not offending someone by avoiding eye contact altogether.
Throwing, catching or rolling a ball to one another is another great way to emphasize the importance of maintaining eye contact.