Eye contact in storytelling
Your son has done something naughty.
They are angry and confrontational, with fists in little balls and feet stamping in protest.
You crouch down to their eye level and inform your child that their behaviour is unacceptable.
He shakes his head, tears flying, eyes on the floor and arms folded.
The natural reaction in this scenario is for your child to avoid eye contact you.
Avoiding eye contact is the natural human reaction when we don’t want to communicate with someone.
Have you ever deliberately avoided eye contact because you didn’t want someone to notice you or to talk to you?
Now you can see the impression you will give your audience, if you do not create or maintain eye contact during story time.
You may not intend it, but withholding eye contact will only serve to tell them that you are not interested in communicating with them.
While your child is snuggled in close to you during storytelling, they want you to be a weaver of dreams.
If you’re staring over their head at the wall, or your eyes are zoned only on the pages you are reading, they won’t feel fully connected to either you, or to the story.
It is easy to assume that because you’re snuggled together and you’re both looking at the book together that they don’t need eye contact. They do.
Eyes can glare, smoulder, gaze, twinkle, shine and show sincerity.
There is a completely separate level of communication coming from your eyes. So reach out to your child by maintaining eye contact.
It’s equally important for you to be monitoring and enjoying your audience’s reaction to your story.
Storytelling is an activity that is a bonding exercise for both of you. If your child is truly engaged in your story, they will mirror your facial expression, reflecting those expressions they see on your face. You also need to ensure your child has not become afraid or confused.
If you are asking your child to participate in the story, maintain eye contact with them as they speak.
If your kids are young, they may still be trying to find the words they need. They will look to you for encouragement, so ensure you are keeping supportive eye contact, as it will encourage your child to keep going, and ultimately help your child to successfully contribute to the story.
Your child needs your affirmation and approval, even as they stumble over words or phrases.
A supportive look is as warm to your child as a bear hug.
You know that eye contact is important. Sometimes you can make eye contact, other times it’s not practical. Practice it. Make it part of your conscious effort at making the most of the stories you’re sharing with your kids.
- Telling a story to a group of children, ensure that you regularly make eye contact with each child.
- It may not be obvious, but if you are constantly excluding one child from your gaze unintentionally, that child will notice your behaviour and feel that exclusion.
- If you’re reading to more than one child, try to spend equal time making eye contact with each child (though there’s no need to take out a stop watch!)
- If your child is speaking, make and maintain eye contact with them.
- While not strictly a storytelling technique, if your child is crying or naughty, wait until they’ve calmed down enough to meet your eyes before telling them the right way to do whatever it is.
Head back to the chapter introduction and keep an eye on your inbox for the next section on toning down your dramatics having just told you to beef them up. Confusing? It’s all about mastery. Just wait and see!