We use eye contact/gaze in many ways- each culture may have their own set of rules. We can use eye contact to get someone’s attention, share in an emotional exchange, ask for help, and show a level of interest. Eye contact is a component needed for non-verbal imitation, a building block to learning. Between 5-6 months of age, babies are using eye gaze to regulate behavior. At 7-8 months, babies will use eye gaze to initiate joint attention. Toddlers will pair eye contact with gestures to communicate about 50% of the time. For some people, eye gaze can be challenging. The pairing of words and/or gestures and eye gaze is not coordinated. It may be difficult to listen to someone talk and look at them at the same time.
Here are some ways to encourage eye contact in your child:
• Play face to face. Make sure your face is in their line of sight.
• Hold it near your face. Moving an interesting item closer to your eyes gives the child more chances to meet your eye gaze.
• Move back. Some children feel uncomfortable if someone is too close. Moving farther away can promote eye contact in these instances.
• Hold back the help. Giving a bit of wait-time before giving your child what they want can encourage eye gaze to seek out your attention. Practice this a few times and see if they catch on.
• Exaggerate. Use dramatic facial expressions and body movements to draw attention.
• Look at the child. Show your child how you can use your eyes to communicate.
• Watch and do. Imitate your child by looking at them and do what they do. Encourage them to watch you and imitate your simple claps, blowing kisses or hand waves.
• Provide positive feedback. When your child looks at you, make sure to make it known that this is something you want to see! Smile and give them what they want, and you will start to see more eye gaze.
If your child continues to struggle with eye gaze, talk to your pediatrician. A screening for vision, hearing and other areas can help point you in the right direction. If you’d like more tips or help in this area, we’re always here to help!