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Children and eye contact - helping your child look people in the eye

Darling, look at Jane when she says hello to you!

Does that sound familiar to you? Have you ever said it to your own child? I know I have!

I've always been passionate about helping children make eye contact, especially when they meet new people or talk to adults. I think it is such an important skill to have. You only have to do an internet search for ?Looking people in the eye? and you'll find hundreds of pages about how hard people find eye contact. There are forums and websites completely dedicated to the subject so it is obviously a big problem out there.

Closer to home, eye contact is something we get asked about frequently when we talk to parents whose children come to Perform. Looking into someone's eyes when you talk to them demonstrates confidence and we all want our children to be confident and to show this to the outside world. Eye contact is crucial for good communication skills and, if taught early, it can be with you for life.

Because of this, a big part of the Listen, Speak & Sing section at Perform is focused on developing eye contact skills. However, of course the last thing you want to say to a child is ?Today we are going to look at how to develop your eye contact skills". You can imagine how well that would go down! What we try to do with all our games and exercises is to ensure that the children learn what we want them to learn but also make it such fun that they think they are playing the most brilliant game ever. We spend about 3-5 minutes each week on a different eye contact game and it definitely works because the feedback we get from parents is always so positive.

So here's just such a game for any parent or teacher who feels that their child or class needs to improve their eye contact. Normally, I make up the Perform games but this one was devised in class by Jamie, one of our teachers, about 8 years ago and it has been a hit ever since.

At Perform, we play it in a large circle as there are lots of us but I do it at home with my husband and two children and it works really well too. Try experimenting with different voices for the pizza and monkey voices as it really makes them laugh.

Hey! You smell like a Pizza

? Sitting in a circle, tell the children that you want to have a chat with one particular child and select them.

? Start chatting, but don't give the child any eye contact

? Ask the children what you were doing wrong. Establish that you weren't looking into their eyes and how important that is when talking to someone

? Tell them that you are going to test them

? Say to the child next to you in a loud voice while giving them perfect eye contact ?Hey! You smell like a pizza!"

? Ask the child to look back at you and say ?Oh, you cheeky monkey?

? Go around the circle until each child has had a turn. Make sure that each makes good eye contact before you move on

I hope you have fun playing it. Let me know your thoughts via the comments.

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