Parents and Children Seeing Eye to Eye: The Power of Your Gaze

Have you ever noticed how romantic novels often include descriptions of lovers gazing into each other’s eyes? How often do we notice someone may be saying something with a straight face but have a little twinkle in their eyes that gives away their real feelings? Or eyes that flash with anger even if the person otherwise seems  calm and relaxed?

One person’s gaze can powerfully impact another.

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

A gaze can show one’s sense of fear, a connection, a sense of play, a threat, or disapproval.

Author Donna Jackson Nakazawa in Childhood Disrupted states, “When the prefrontal cortex functions with the sense that we are safe and secure in the world, we seek eye contact with other people. We seek a connection with them, we want to engage, and we do this by looking into their eyes.” [Note that the prefrontal cortex refers to the part of the brain that involves thinking and perceiving in a cognitive way.]

Even babies can be impacted by a parent’s gaze.

According to Nakazawa’s research, “The way in which infants gaze into the eyes of a parent or caregiver is a safety-seeking reflex; it orients them, tells them that they are safe. Eye gaze also matters a lot in helping to ease the impact of adversity and trauma.”

The author goes on to share that when parents look into their child’s eyes with a deep expression of connection, the vagus nerve is stimulated.

That [vagus] nerve is “… a critical neural circuit that communicates with the brain, heart, and face, helping to regulate our heart rate, breath, and facial expressions. When we increase the activity of our child’s vagus nerve, it has a calming influence on the heart and lungs, and calms the body’s hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal stress axis, turning off the stress response.

Nakazawa points out that parents have the power, through their gaze, to help a child who is stressed out.

She says you can help your child “… with a remarkably simple action: stop whatever you’re doing, orient yourself so that you are looking deeply into your child’s eyes, usually facial muscles to offer a kindhearted, loving gaze, and speak with a soothing tone of voice.…

“Just this one, very simple step of gazing eye-to-eye with your child helps him or her to shift out of a fear state and feel seen and secure, all at the same time. That’s a lot of healing power in the kind, soothing eye-to-eye parental gaze of love.”

Imagine! You have the power, when you gaze into your child’s eyes, to communicate without words, your love and appreciation for that child.

That gaze allows them to feel safe and securely attached. Frequent eye gazes allow children to experience a sense of their value and worth.

Intentionally taking time every day to make eye contact and deliberately gaze deeply into your child’s eyes to transmit messages of love and connection is extremely powerful.

On the other hand, avoiding eye contact or ignoring those times when your child seeks out your gaze can have the opposite result. Avoiding eye contact can cause the child to feel ignored, abandoned, unworthy.

Remember this when you are tempted to make your eye gazes go to your screens rather than to your child.

It only takes a few seconds to send that profoundly important message of love and caring through gazing deeply into your child’s eyes.

 Invitation for Reflection

  1. What have you noticed when you gaze at someone else in terms of their response to your gaze? When someone gazes at you?
  2. How aware are you of the impact your gaze may be having on your children?
  3. Based on this information, what changes might you make in terms of gazing deeply into your child’s eyes to communicate love and connection?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute, Lakeside

Reference source: Author Donna Jackson Nakazawa in Childhood Disrupted , pp. 210-211.

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