Matthew 6:22 and Luke 11:34 state, “the eye is the lamp of the body”. Shakespeare stated, “The eyes are the windows to your soul”. There is no doubt that it is through our eyes that we connect with one another. Much of our non-verbal communication involves a look into one another’s eyes. It is through our eyes that we receive the subtle cues of how those around us are responding to our interactions. Whether through adoption or foster care, eye contact is especially important when building a connection with a child newly in your home. For a child just learning to trust and connect , gazing into another person’s eyes can be a very threatening experience. The demand from an adult to, “Look at me when I talk to you!”, can quickly trigger a child’s fight/flight response causing the child to be overwhelmed. Forced eye contact can actually heighten a child’s fear response. Therefore, we want to be considerate of the child’s need and begin slowly to develop trust in this area of eye contact. Following are some tips of how to achieve the goal of eye contact and connection with your child in a fun and non-threatening way.
¨ Write an I-Love-You message in soap on a mirror or a heart (for the non-reader) then stand behind the child when he reads it. You may get a glance in the mirror. If not, you still communicated “I love you.”
¨ Dress the same. Match. You have to look at one another and discuss how you are alike.
¨ Matching a children in their play and actions is a great way to connect. If you begin to mimic them they will look at you for sure!
¨ Play peek- a- boo with your child. Children as old as thirteen have played this and enjoyed it.
¨ Paint the child’s face. Let him paint your face. This creates great eye contact.
¨ Look at each other and name the ways you are alike, (we both have noses, eyes, freckles etc.…)
¨ Have a candy-kiss hunt. Hide the kisses. When the child finds a kiss he must look you in the eye and count to five, get a kiss from you, then eat the candy kiss.
¨ Put a sticker on your face between your eyes. Don’t comment on it at all. The child will look at you and laugh! Variation: use stickers to decorate each other’s faces.
¨ Play the blink game-look into each other’s eyes and see how long you can do it without a blink; try to increase the time and celebrate with a silly dance when you reach a new record.
¨ With girls put make-up and eye shadow on each other.
With boys take shaving cream, apply to face with a popsicle stick and “shave” one another.
¨ Make up an eye signal game. The child stands ten steps away from you. He looks in your eyes, with one eye blink he takes one step forward. With two blinks he takes one step backward. When he reaches you he wins; this game also helps a child to develop self-regulation.
¨ Play a card game- “Crazy eights” or “Go fish”– but no one can take a turn until eye contact is made.
¨ Buy a wildly colored hair spray, such as blue. Spray a streak in each child’s hair to show that he belongs to the family. Look in each child’s eyes as you spray.
¨ Turn off the lights and play flashlight tag. When you beam on the child, he has to look at your eyes for two seconds.
¨ A simple comment that you love your child’s beautiful, big (name the color) eyes will cause the child to make eye contact with you and you will probably get a smile!
Hopefully these have been helpful tips that will stimulate other ideas and games that will encourage you and your child to make eye contact , build connection and have fun together!
*Adapted from Parenting the Hurt Child by Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky
Developed by: Lynn Beckett, LBSW