Deciding whether to work on eye contact or not is a personal decision. Every parent knows his/her child best, and can make the best choice as to whether to pursue this skill or not.
At first, I made the classic “look at me” mistake. Yes, you can laugh at me now. Since I said “look at me” and reinforced it, our son was happy to comply.
Even when he was talking to other people.
So he’d talk to the doctor – or friend, or teacher, or whomever, – and look at me while doing so. This was a problem. “Look at me” translated into “whenever you talk, look at me.” Not look at the person you’re talking to. Not look at the person you’re working with.
Classic miscommunication problem. Needless to say, there are better ways to get the message across.
One great nonverbal way to help – and I love nonverbal prompts – is to give something to the person, but not let go. For example, child asks for toy. Parent extends toy, child grabs, but parent doesn’t let go. Child then looks up to see what’s going on (why am I not being given this toy? What’s going on?). As soon as eye contact is made, relinquish the toy and praise.
So many things can be given to a child. So many opportunities to practice can be found, or contrived.
And no, we’re not talking wrestling, torture, teasing, or anything horrible like that. It usually just takes a second or two for the non-give to come across and the question to flit through the mind.
To help generalize the skill – yes, I felt pretty burned by my original mistake – we asked the grandparents to also hold on just that tiny bit longer. So that he’d learn to look at anyone who was offering an item.
Yes, this is only one tip. It won’t save the world or cause people to miraculously learn to look up and make social contact in every situation.
But it did help us. Hopefully, it can help others out there, too. 😉
Note: Thank you, Jennifer, for teaching us this trick so long ago! And, years later, I’ve finally forgiven myself for being fallible. My son, generous, warm-hearted boy that he is, never blamed me in the first place.