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Being physically present with our kids: Does it count if we don’t make eye contact?

We’ve all been there. Your kid comes up to you right after you’ve worked all day and asks to play. You’re exhausted and you still have to do laundry, dishes, dinner, and bed time.

But you don’t want to be a parent who’s always too busy to play with their kids so you tell them to get out the Legos and meet you at the table.

Then the entire time you’re playing, you’re whipping through Facebook, only half present, waiting for it to end. Sure, you look up often enough to speak for Emmet the construction worker, but you’re never really into it. Your kid has to say your name three times before you reply to her Wyldstyle question.

You leave the interaction wondering why you don’t feel like you satisfied your parenting commitment, and they leave feeling less happy than they thought they would but not sure why.

You see, what happens when our hands and bodies are in the right place, but are minds are elsewhere, we end up giving our kids everything but our eye contact. And let me tell you a few things about eye contact.

1. We communicate more through eye contact and body language than words.

– Someone can speak the most flattering words in the world to me, but if they’re looking at a pretty girl who’s walking by while they say it, I won’t feel praised at all.
– My husband can say he’s on a date with me, but if he’s staring at his phone the entire time we’re talking, I won’t feel valued.
– If my students at school don’t look at me while I’m talking to them, I don’t feel respected or heard.
– Making eye contact with our kids while we’re spending time with them shows them that they’re more valuable to us than whatever else is in the room.

2. Not making eye contact with someone dehumanizes them.

– Think about it. We don’t make eye contact with inanimate objects.
– We don’t have to make eye contact with animals.
– We don’t look at people when we’re angry with them.
– We avoid eye contact with homeless people on the side of the road.
– When we don’t give our kids our eye contact, we place them in the same category as everything/everyone else that we don’t find to be worthy of treating like a human.

3. Our eyes are most drawn to what we’re interested in.

– In an art gallery full of amazing paintings, our eyes naturally gravitate to the ones that capture our attention.
– When there’s an attractive person in the room, our eyes roam that direction.
– If our brains are preoccupied thinking about a project we’re working on, our eyes end up glazed over, staring off into the distance.
– Our eyes go where our attention goes. If we don’t look at our children when we give them our “time,” then we aren’t really giving them our attention. And they KNOW it.


That’s the hardest part about this whole thing. Our kids know we’re not giving them all of us. They don’t always understand exactly what’s bothering them about the situation, but they know they don’t feel seen.

We convince ourselves that we’ve done what we need to do, but we’ve really just given our families a cheapened version of it.

It’s like a penny into your savings account each month, and then being surprised when it doesn’t have a million dollars in it by the end of the year. You can’t expect to cash out what you don’t deposit.

So as you go through life this week, think about what you’re putting into your relationship with your kids. Are you depositing feelings of inconvenience and then expecting to withdraw feelings of value?

Deposit eye contact this week. You’ll thank yourself next week, and your kids will thank you once they’re older.

Being physically present with our kids: Does it count if we don’t make eye contact?

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2018). Being physically present with our kids: Does it count if we don’t make eye contact?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 Mar 2018
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