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Playful Self-Discipline: Communicating With Eye Contact

It’s Thursday and time to check in on my Playful Self-Discipline Project! This month’s theme is Communication. I’m focusing on listening without interfering, speaking clearly and using eye contact to maintain a connection between myself and the person I’m communicating with.

When I decided to focus on my communication skills this month I started paying more attention to when and how I made eye contact with people. I soon discovered that I made eye contact when I was feeling positive, and avoided making eye contact when I was feeling grumpy, irritated, tired or frustrated. When I noticed this, the big old lightbulb switched on over my head. AHA! The attachment circuit was malfunctioning without my consistent eye contact.

bea making a silly face

Eye Contact Is Essential

Creating and maintaining an emotional connection between two people requires eye contact. Whether it’s because the eyes are truly the windows of the soul or because eye contact triggers feelings of empathy, making eye contact with someone can be a powerful connecting force.

The importance of making eye contact when communicating with children is one of those things I knew intellectually but had let slip in my daily life. I’d let it become an unconscious thing, and somehow I ended up in the habit of shouting, “STOP JUMPING!” across the house instead of actually walking over there, calmly looking my child in the eye and checking in with her before making any requests that she change her behaviour.

The Eye Contact Effect

Simply making eye contact more often made a huge difference. Looking my child in the eye, even when I really wanted to be left alone for a while, helped remind me that we are two people here and her needs are important too. Making eye contact more often also reminded me of how little the girls really are. And I was reminded of all their other lovely little-kid traits too: exuberant, creative, imaginative and innocent.

The girls went out with Tom on the weekend and came back with their faces painted. It was so much easier to be patient and understanding of their childishness when they looked like a little rainbow and a little tiger. Somehow, the rest of the time I’d slipped into some rather unrealistic expectations.

claire sleeping with her lamb

Making eye contact a consistent habit that is part of my moment-by-moment parenting has made a positive change so far. Sticking with it even when I just want to be by myself is difficult, but 100% worth it. And I can’t believe I’d let it slip without noticing before now.

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  • Rachael May 12, 2011, 6:44 pm

    Years ago, I noticed that I avoided eye contact with people at my job when I was uncertain about my work for some reason — afraid of not meeting a deadline, or whatever. I then started to work to maintain eye contact while talking to people. For me, the eye contact was about maintaining my integrity.

    Now, I maintain eye contact with the Critter in order to maintain my connection with him. I’m now curious about what links there might be between my idea of what integrity is and my idea of what connection is….

    • michelle May 12, 2011, 10:07 pm

      Hm, interesting point. I think there is a link between connection and integrity. My intention is to be connected with my kids, but if I’m not feeling like that in the moment (grumpy, tired, etc.) I’m out of tune with that and not acting with integrity according to my original intent. Hence the tendency to avoid eye contact.

      Integrity is certainly something I’d like to work towards in a playfully self-disciplined way. I will need to think on this a while longer… Thanks for your comment!

  • Cynthia May 13, 2011, 9:03 pm

    Great reminder. I know that for me, if I don’t maintain eye contact, then I don’t have to see the look on their face as I rant and rave about the puzzle in the middle of the kitchen floor and I’m not the only one living in this house and I’m tired of cleaning up ALL DAY LONG and I’m going to throw everything on the floor in the garbage if it isn’t picked up RIGHT NOW.

    Not that, you know, anything like that happened in my house just yesterday afternoon.