Two of my daughters came to us a year ago, at the ages of 9 and 11. A couple months after they got home, we signed them up for swimming lessons. I spent lesson time sitting next to the baby pool keeping an eye on my 3-year-old. But the pool for the bigger kids is close by, so I was also able to watch my older kids during their lessons.
The girls approached swim lessons with a bit of anxiety, and hung close to me on that first day. I asked if they wanted me to tell their teacher that they’d just arrived in America, but they said no. I honored their preferences, simply introducing them and walking away. Their instructor quickly figured out that they were new immigrants and did a great job of simplifying and clarifying his instructions.
As I watched the girls in their lessons, I was pleased to see that they seem to be doing well and enjoying themselves. But I noticed another, even more heartening thing. Often during the lessons, my girls would look my direction to see if I was watching them. I always grinned and gave them a thumbs-up. They grinned back at me, pleased that I watch watching.
This may sound like a small thing, but the truth is that you can tell a lot about your relationship with your child by the quality of the eye contact. Granted, different people are comfortable with different levels of eye contact. And a child who has been newly adopted will often take some time to reach the level of intimacy at which he will seek out his mother's eyes. But eye contact is a great indicator in any parent-child relationship.
First of all, it means your child is seeking your attention. He's checking back in visually, and is interested in what you're up to. Another good sign is the child's response to your facial expressions. Every kid has cranky moments where he will resist returning your smile. But if your relationship is in good shape, and your child is not struggling with too many negative moods, he will bounce your smile right back to you when you smile at him.
This even holds true with infants. Sometimes I will come cooing up to a baby at church, only to have that baby refuse to make eye contact. That’s totally appropriate when done by a baby to a casual acquaintance or a stranger. And it is important to realize that if you are a parent to a very newly arrived baby, you start out being a stranger to him, and it may take him a few weeks or months to truly warm up.
But eventually a newly arrived child will get comfortable with the intimacy of the eyes. When eye contact is easy and smiles are freely returned, it says great things about the growing relationship between parent and child. The eyes truly are a window to the soul. Watch your child’s eyes and you will gain some insight into your relationship.