The other day a friend told me her teenage son has a difficult time talking to her face to face. She said their best conversations are in the car when they are sitting side by side. I'm always happy to hear about good communication between a parent and a child and I would not want to say anything to get in the way of that. However alarm bells did go off when she told me they are more comfortable not looking at each other. When I'm feeling angry or out of sorts towards someone, I don't want to look at them. It's human nature to avoid eye contact with someone you don't like or trust.
That's why one of the first things I suggest to parents is to start making positive eye contact with the challenging child. I am thinking about a lovely mother who came to me very worried about her 9 year old daughter. She spoke honestly about her loss of connection to her child, which began at age 5. I won't go into all the details about how this happened. In my counseling practice I discovered it can be anything from a difficult birth, to the child reminding the parent of a person they don't like,to a parent/child personality clash. In this situation the daughter was misbehaving at home a lot, picking fights with her younger siblings, and the mother was engaging in a lot of power struggles with her daughter. I believe this is a result of their relationship breakdown. I assured the mother she could connect with her child and it begins with eye contact.
She was so angry she wasn't sure she could even look at her daughter. We discussed different scenarios and she decided the breakfast table was a calm part of the day. She promised to give it a try and see what happened.
The following meeting a different mother walked through the door. She couldn't believe it-what began with fleeting positive glances over the breakfast table ended with a closeness between mother and daughter. It hadn't been this way for years. It became easier and easier to look at each other. She felt like she was seeing her daughter for the the first time in a long time. Her little girl was sweet and bright and fun to be around. We continued working together, adding more parenting skills as the weeks went on. Very early in the process she and all of her children walked to the park. Her 9 year old daughter grabbed her hand and held on. With their arms swinging, the mother felt so good. I'm sure the daughter did too!!