I spent the last two days with a group of amazing childcare teachers and administrators attending my class on Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma. I love when people share the ways they implement what they learn and the results that transpire. Liz Douglas from Children’s Place at Integris Hospital, shared the change that happened in her classroom when she determined to be more intentional about eye contact with her children.
An early childhood classroom is a busy place where there is always a little person needing something from you. It is easy to be distracted in our conversations with children as we attend to all that is going on. Liz began documenting how many times she made eye contact with individual children and realized there were some that received little to no eye contact. She began to be very intentional about taking time to pause and make eye contact with each and every child throughout the day. Liz reported that the dynamic of her whole classroom began to change. Children began to talk more. There were less behavior challenges and the entire atmosphere became more calm.
Why is eye contact so important? Eye contact is an unspoken invitation to connect. It communicates to the child that he is important and you value the things he has to say. It indicates that you are fully present, a gift that is increasingly rare in a distracted culture. Looking a child in the eye communicates that he is a priority.
For some children, eye contact can be intimidating because it can evoke feelings of vulnerability. Children who have a history of trauma sometimes avoid making eye contact. There are several strategies that can help children feel less vulnerable and begin to feel more comfortable looking people in the eye.
- Begin with-side by-side conversations with children who are reluctant. Place a large rocking chair or love seat in your classroom. Invite a child to sit next to you to chat. Once they become comfortable interacting with you in this way, begin some face-to-face interaction.
- Gently stroke under a child’s chin when you are talking face-to-face and he will most likely glance at you for a brief moment. Comment on their pretty eyes.
- Make a silly statement about a child’s eyes that makes him laugh. My go-to phrase is “I didn’t know you have purple eyes!” Their response is usually to laugh and open their eyes wide and say, “I don’t!” The laughter puts them at ease and they often will continue with eye contact.
- Have a basket of fun sunglasses handy. When a child is having trouble making eye contact put on a pair of sunglasses and invite him to do so. This gives a child a sense of “hiding” and can help him to feel safe enough to look at your face.
- Play lots of games that involve a volley such as rolling or throwing a beach ball back and forth. This requires children to at least glance at the person they are throwing to. Toss a bean bag, nerf ball or frisbee.
- Play peek-a-boo with children.
- Make a pair of “binoculars” with your hands and say, “I see you!” Invite the child to look at you through their binoculars.
- Look at each other through a paper towel tube.
The eyes are the windows of your soul. When you look at children with love and acceptance they know their value and importance to you.
Enjoy your day!!!