Children Who Need to Make Eye Contact

Posted by E.J. Volkmar on May 26, 2015

Kids today seem to have a hard time making eye contact when they talk; I suspect all the smartphones and computers they use today are a big part of the problem here. They spend so much time with inanimate objects that they have no practice doing this. I know my children have a hard time making eye contact when they meet new people, and they are not too good with it when their Grandma comes visiting, either.
It's important because making eye contact is an important social skill; it helps us signal that we are interested in people, that we’re friendly and alive. Psychologist Kennedy-More states that if your child usually looks down or off in the distance while with others, adults perceive them as ill mannered.  

This lack of eye contact in kids is unfortunately a growing phenomenon. Research demonstrates that screen time is the culprit here. It has been found that an excessive amount of screen time robs kids of their chance to develop non-verbal communication skills; this includes communicating without words such as a tilt of the head, a scowl and any other facial expressions that people use to convey a message to others. Although the reason for this decrease in eye contact has been argued about, it is definitely a problem in kids today.

Here are some changes you can try to make to help your child do better at making eye contact.
Let them play anthropologists. Let your child become the researcher in which their job is to watch the person they are with all day. Tell them to keep track of how often their friend looks in the eyes of others and how often they say hello and reach out to others. Tell them to keep track if their friend says hello when they walk into a room. Ask them to report at the end of the day.
Model bad behavior. Set up a game of role-playing with your child and when they talk to you, respond in an off-hand manner like looking off to the side as you talk back to them. Then barely mutter a reply to them. Ask your child how this made them feel and why. Your child should pick it up very quickly that such a response is not a very friendly one. Make sure that they understand that their behavior may come across the same way.
Use your eyebrows. If your child is experiencing difficulty looking someone in the eye tell them to focus on the person’s eyebrow. Tell them to aim for the space between the two eyebrows. This should be right at the top of the nose.
Offer a script. It is often awkward for kids when they meet people. Even if it is someone they know, they often do not know what to day. It will help them if you could write out a script for them to follow so they will know what to say. Tell them how to look the person in the eyes when they meet them.