Having seen so many questions on this site dealing with the kids not making an eye contact, I was wondering if there are times when we should ask the kid not to make an eye contact?

I remember my childhood and adulthood when my father and mother used to hit me as hard as they can, and I also remember myself staring in their eyes back! That used to be my way of telling them "Huh! If you think you are physically strong enough to hurt me so am I strong enough to "deal with you"! Go on now, why have you stopped!"

Seeing my stare my father used to yell at me saying "Keep your eyes down or I'll take them out"! It usually didn't deter me ever.

I remember in schools too we were always expected by our teachers to keep our eyes down when we were being scolded! Making an eye contact was always taken as a challenge by the elders.

I see on this site parents always complain that their child doesn't look at them while being scolded. Is this just a cultural difference, or there are times when we should expect the child not to make an eye contact?


To be honest, I think this one is house-by-house cultural, depending on whether the behaviour desired is understanding of right and wrong, or obeying authority figures.

Spanking is traditionally a clear indicator of an Authoritarian household or organisation, where the key to discipline is obedience; understanding of the issues involved are, at most, a bonus. Eye contact is an indicator of an Authoritative household, where the child understanding why what they did was wrong is the key to discipline. See the link below for a discussion of the efficacy of the former, but the tl;dr version is that physical punishment is hard to do right, and using it as a first response is one of the ways to do it wrong.

As you said, in your case, eye contact was a defiant gesture, and it probably could be nothing else, as there was no attempt to explain (eye contact as "I will not bow my head and obey you just because you're stronger than me"). If a child is looking away when you're trying to explain however, that's another example of defiance (avoiding eye contact as "I will not engage in this discussion with you because I doubt it's going to end well for me").

Off the top of my head, I can't think of a situation where it would be better for the child not to understand why it's bad to (for example) run out into the road, sneak around with a bad crowd, or engage in any one of the millions of variations of bad behaviour. And without eye contact, it's less likely that they're taking anything in, and it's a lot harder to read if you're making progress.

So yes, even if you're using physical punishment, I would immediately make eye contact afterwards, and explain why you felt the need to escalate to that point.

Of course, if you don't have any good answers to why what they did made you angry, then it's going to be blindingly obvious when they look at you that that's the case. But in that case, I'd recommend sending them to their room till you can articulate why you're angry.



  • "physical punishment is hard to do right"... -1 for even considering physical punishment a viable option.
    – Sefe
    Apr 3 '19 at 9:21

...are [there] times when we should ask the kid not to make an eye contact?

No, I can't think of any situation where we should ask or insist that a child not make eye contact.

Eye gaze is an important part of social interaction. If you want to know what your child is thinking and feeling, eye gaze will partially inform you of that. If you don't want to know or don't care what your child is thinking/feeling, making a child avert their eyes is a good way of communicating that. Though it varies in different societies, eye gaze is always an important communication tool. There are even studies showing eye gaze alone to be the best way to communicate in particular circumstances, e.g. in joint tasks.

In the situation you describe:

...parents always complain that their child doesn't look at them while being scolded.

If that's so, then the parents are not good at reading the emotional cues of their children.

Understanding, attention, inquiring and other things (respect? This depends on culture.) are often communicated by direct gaze. Parents may want the child to communicate that they are being attentive to what the parent is saying by looking directly at them.

However, shame/embarrassment and guilt are often expressed by averting gaze (have you ever thought of something embarrassing that you did and found yourself loosely covering your eyes with your hand?) If a child is being scolded, the normal (and most comfortable) reaction is to look down. If the child doesn't understand or agree that it was wrong, direct gaze may be an attempt to understand or a signal that they want to make an inquiry. Sometimes, a direct gaze is a sign of defiance.

No matter what the reason, I can't think of a situation where I don't want to know what my child is thinking/feeling, even when they are attempting to defy me or hurt my feelings.

I'm a physician. One of my best friends in the ER, a very experienced ER nurse, came in with cough, mild fever, and chest pain, insisting it was pneumonia. I felt we needed to rule out a myocardial infarction. The only tests she would allow me to do did not rule out a heart attack, but she was quite clear that she would not allow an EKG or cardiac enzymes. Two days later she presented in congestive heart failure from the massive MI she wouldn't let me test her for. I cried about it intermittently for weeks. My eldest was a sponge and accustomed to medical talk. One time months later I was rebuking him for something he felt defensive about.

The following is an example of the eye gaze pattern of defiance and shame: When I finished rebuking him, he looked directly at me and said, "It's not like I killed my best friend." (defiance.) I met his gaze with a mixture of awe and sorrow (interest.) "You're trying to hurt me," I simply said. "it was a good try." He looked down (shame) and started to cry. I consoled him. His shame was enough of a consequence.

A small selection from the vast amount of literature on eye gaze:

Cultural Display Rules Drive Eye Gaze During Thinking
Oxytocin differentially modulates eye gaze to naturalistic social signals of happiness and anger Just interesting.
Early cortical specialization for face-to-face communication in human infants


Americans always demand that the child look into their eyes when they are talking to the child. I think it's very aggressive. I mean a child's natural inclination when he is ashamed is to look down and staring at an adult who is obviously upset at them is just a way for them to be intimidated and might even escalate the situation to tears. Just like lions growl at their young when they do something wrong, i usually just tell kids in a different tone and kids understand.

  • 1
    Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! Please take the tour and read the help center. Jul 13 '19 at 17:11
  • 1
    "Americans always demand that the child look into their eyes when they are talking to the child." Please support this assertion, or consider removing/editing it. Unlike forums (with which you might be more familiar), this is a Q&A site dedicated to well-researched answers, or failing that, at least the best interpretation of facts, not just unsupported opinion. (I am an American, and I have no such expectation.) I agree that it's aggressive, though. Jul 13 '19 at 17:18

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