My toddler won’t look me in the eye!
The first issue many people will tell you when your toddler will not look you in the eye is, they are autistic. While this may be true, it is not usually the case. There are many reasons a toddler avoids eye contact, and most reasons are fairly ordinary. It is a scientific fact that a toddler not looking you are in the eye is because developmentally, they are not ready to listen or internalize you are telling them. You have to repeat yourself over and over, and you still will not get a toddler to look you straight in the eye.
One lady in the pediatrician’s office was distraught because her 3-year old would not pay attention to what she was saying. She was in the doctor’s office, asking if her child was autistic. The knowledgeable doctor sat her down and gave her other reasons why her toddler did not make eye contact.
Toddlers have a noticeably short attention span. Their brains are not fully developed, and their thoughts jump from one subject to another. It could be that your toddler is thinking about running and playing, and your demands to “look me in the eye” are annoying.
Did you know that when you try and force eye contact, it is harder for your toddler to think or even concentrate? Perhaps they are avoiding eye contact while they think about their responses, but a more reasonable explanation is the do not care what you have to say.
They Have Done Something Wrong
When you are being stern and talking to your toddler in a low voice, your child may perceive you are angry with them. They will not look you in the eye out of fear they will see something they do not want to see – disappointment or anger.
When we discipline children even as young as a toddler, we want to know they hear and understand us. We often say, “look me in the eye.” Looking you in the eye is not so easy for your toddler, or anyone when you are stern with them. Your toddler will look away and just want you to go away.
You Have Something on Your Face
Your toddler may find it uncomfortable to look at you because you have something on your face. It may be a blemish, a bit of food from lunch, or they just do not want to look at you.
They Do Not Want to Talk Anymore
Your toddler may be tired of talking. They have something else to do, and conversation is not important to them.
Your Toddler Has a Crush on You
As strange as this may seem, toddlers often have “crushes” on one parent or person. Looking directly at them is embarrassing, awkward, and your toddler finds it challenging.
Are There Alternatives?
You are inciting a power struggle when you ask a toddler to look you in the eye. There are other ways you can manage your child when you want them to listen to you.
Sit Your Toddler Out
When you want to talk to your toddler, try sitting them on your lap, facing out. It is easy to connect in a gentle, more loving way than asking them to look you in the eye. Talk softly; they will listen.
Get Down on Their Level
Would you be able to talk to someone who is towering over you? Would you want to look them in the eye? When you need to talk to your toddler, get down to their level. Then, you are not so intimidating, and you can connect to them easier. Get down on their level, do not demand eye contact. Hold their hand and ask them to focus on you and what you are saying.
Even if you are talking to a toddler, you can ask them to listen to you, repeat what you said, or at least ask them to nod, so you know that they are somewhat listening. Asking them to repeat what you said is a great learning tool.
Make It a Game
Everything is a game to a toddler. If it makes them laugh, they will probably pay attention. If you are harsh and yelling, they will probably run or look away.
Yelling at your child is the worst thing you can do if you are trying to communicate. Constantly yelling at a toddler, no matter how loud you yell, will not get a toddler to look you in the eye. Stay calm and keep talking. If your toddler is in the throes of a meltdown, stay as calm as you can and quietly try to be gentle. They will eventually stop and listen.
Keep It Simple
Your toddler is just trying to understand. Keep your instructions simple. The more you try to explain, the less they will understand and listen. If you are continually talking and tell them no, that is the one word they will hear. Requests need to be simple and positive. Don’t’ say manipulative phrases like, “you know that hurts my feelings.” Your toddler will never understand, look you in the eye, or listen. They do not care. Be more direct and personal, say, “you will get hurt,” or simply hurt. Hurt is a word they can understand.
Instead of yelling and saying there is a mess in the kitchen, get down on your toddler’s level. Take them by the hand and show them the mess. Together with your little one, clean it up. Your toddler will be more apt to look you in the eye, understand what you want, and even help you pick up.
Encourage your toddler to look at you when you are talking. Do not be alarmed if they just turn away to look at something else. Do not force them to look you in the eye; you will only cause a battle. Practice patience, and showing them you care is the best way to get your toddler to look at you.
By all means, do not immediately assume that they are autistic. Not wanting to look you in the eye is normal behavior for a toddler who has other things on their mind.