goodManners: At A Glance Teaching children the importance of making eye contact

You can’t fake good eye contact. It’s an incredibly powerful skill that must be communicated with finesse and honesty.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote “An eye can threaten like a loaded gun, or it can insult like hissing or kicking, or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance for joy.”

I’ve noticed that some people have the natural ability to maintain excellent eye contact. Then, of course, there are others who struggle with the issue of eye contact for various reasons – makes them uncomfortable, could have a shy personality, may be lying.

Good eye contact is sometimes not as simple as it may seem. Your mindset must first reflect that you care what the person you are communicating with is saying. Without that mindset, learning technique is almost meaningless. That doesn’t mean that you must tolerate communicating with someone you would rather not. In that example, learning to gracefully exit a conversation is in order.

Teaching children while they are young to display good eye contact will serve them well. I’ve found teaching good eye contact techniques to children can be interesting.

Young children are frequently “black & white” in their thinking, and at the same time are refreshingly honest. They usually ask many good questions.

·          “How long should I look at someone without blinking?”

·          “What if the person is ugly?”

·          “Should I look at their eyes, eyelashes, their eyebrows, or maybe their nose?”

·          “What if the person is not looking at me?”

Where to look

Try to look at the person in the eyes. It’s also okay to gaze at the eyebrow area or top of the nose. However, “shifty eyes”, when you are looking around the room and not focusing on the person in front of you is not okay. 

Looking versus staring

There is a difference between looking at someone in their eyes and staring at them.  Intensely staring at someone can make him feel uncomfortable. Naturally blinking every few seconds and then refocusing on eye contact is fine. An occasional glance away is also fine so long as it’s very brief.

Eye contact discipline

Eye contact must be maintained regardless of someone’s physical appearance. Young children sometimes have difficulty with this point. I try not to confuse this issue, or allow excuses for not displaying eye contact. It’s simply an issue of respect that should be extended when communicating.

When someone looks away

Much like adults, children that display good eye contact don’t like it when someone doesn’t reciprocate in kind. I’m quick to interject and praise a child for maintaining good eye contact even though the other person did not. Since you can’t force someone to maintain eye contact, I have found it helpful to either pause and wait to see if the person recognizes the error and initiates eye contact, or politely exit the conversation.

Practice, practice, practice

Opportunities to discuss good and poor eye contact with our children are plentiful. Discuss your shared experiences observing eye contact during your everyday outings. As always, the more your children display good eye contact when they are young the greater the likelihood that it will become second nature to them later in life.