For various reasons children sometimes do not develop this skill. This can be an indication that the Fear Paralysis Reflex has not been integrated. When children do not easily make eye contact it puts them at a disadvantage for making social attachments, learning to read facial expressions, and actually hearing and understanding language. If a child has difficulty with auditory processing, watching the mouth of the person who is talking can give them a great deal of assistance in understanding what is being said.
It can grow tiring to constantly tell a child "look at me" (tiring for both you and your child). Here are some creative ways to encourage eye contact with which you might like to experiment.
- Get eye level with your head in your child's field of vision as often as possible.
- Use a hand signal by putting two fingers on your chin and wait to speak until your child is looking. Stop speaking if she looks away. (You can touch her arm to get her attention and put your fingers back on your chin to remind her to keep watching until you are done speaking.)
- Sing a song or chant nursery rhymes together. Ask your child to watch your face and/or sing with you. Stop singing when he looks away and start singing again when he looks back.
- Sing a song that is responsive -you sing a line, then he sings a line, or choose a word she has to fill in each time it comes up.
- Whisper REALLY softly so your child must look at your lips to understand what you are saying - maybe just mouth the words so she can practice "lip reading." This is a good tactic to use if your child is doing NeuroNet and needs prompting to remember the numbers or letters when "falling." The parent that is facing the child can mouth or whisper the prompts, to encourage your child to watch your face.
- Say "let me see those beautiful blue eyes" rather than "look at me when I'm talking."
- "Catch" your child looking and say, "I really like the way you are looking at my face when you talk. It helps me understand." or "I really like the way you are looking at my face while I'm talking." If your child only makes intermittent eye contact, you might have to be quick about catching them doing it to reinforcing it with praise.
- If eye contact is really uncomfortable for your child, he or she can practice with a doll or stuffed animal. Show your child how to cuddle the toy, looking into it's eyes, maybe feeding it a bottle. Talk about the toy's pretty eyes and what a special baby or bear it is. If your child becomes comfortable doing this with a doll (maybe after a number of practice sessions), you might be able to get him to pretend like a baby for you to hold and gaze into his eyes. This might be a good time to talk about how much you loved him as a baby, or if your child was adopted you might try talking about how special she is and how glad you are to have her in your family, how long you waited to get her, and how you waited with anticipation for her.
- If you are doing an ILC home program with reflex integration activities, some of these may provide an opportunity to incorporate eye contact. The Embracing Squeeze which works on integration of the Fear Paralysis reflex is good for this. Sometimes rhythmic movements can provide an opportunity as well, if you are positioned where your child can easily see your face. (This might not be possible unless the child is at the stage of doing the movements independently.)