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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Do Your Eyes Light Up When Your Child Walks In?

I heard someone once quote Dr. Maya Angelou’s belief that children need to see our eyes light up when they enter a room. This had a profound effect on me.

Are you aware of what your face looks like when you’re deep in concentration? Try concentrating on something serious for a few minutes then go look in a mirror, trying to freeze your facial expression. (An easy way to do this experiment is to clean your bathroom for a few minutes, really scrubbing away hard, then look up into the bathroom mirror.) Do you look serious? Unfriendly or unwelcoming? When I first tried this experiment, I had been working on the computer for awhile, and then went to look in a mirror, and I looked angry! For the first time, I realized my “serious” or “deep in thought” face wasn’t pretty!

Now imagine being occupied with something and your child interrupts you. You look up and this is the face he sees! Yikes! Anxious to get back to the matter at hand and maybe even a little irritated at this distraction, perhaps your facial expression does not change or lighten during your interaction with your child. Or worse yet, a possible expression of irritability is added.

This is the face of emotions your child is viewing and experiencing from his side. He will read your face and it will affect his emotions. You are looking at him and you don’t look happy. This is all he knows.

Now imagine being engrossed in a project and once again your child interrupts. But this time you look up and seeing your beautiful child, your face lights up. The tightness of your skin relaxes, your eyes glow and you smile with love, genuinely happy to see your child. (Test this look in a mirror as well, thinking of how much you love your child.)

Compare the two faces and imagine greeting your child with both. Now imagine being a child and being greeted with each facial expression by your parent. Can you feel the difference between the two vibes being given out with each expression and how that makes you, as a child, feel?

How does being greeted with the serious face feel? Like your parent is not happy to see or talk with you? Like there’s something wrong? Like you’re being a bother and you’d better hurry up with what you had to say? Do you feel somewhat intimidated and less than secure? Now think about being greeted with the delighted face and how that expression makes you feel. Does your mood change when confronted by a warm, loving and welcoming smile? Of course it does! You feel secure and loved and happy to share whatever it is you wanted to say. You feel a greater sense of self esteem.

Young children don’t know what it means to “take things too personally”. What they do know how to do is instinctively read facial expressions. When your child enters the room and you look at him with an impatient, irritated, distracted or bored expression, it affects him. When you look at him with interest, love, joy and importance, it affects him as well. The question is what effect do you wish to impress upon him when you greet him?

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t even aware at how unappealing my “studious look” was and had no idea what I was presenting to my children unintentionally yet repeatedly throughout our day. Thanks to a priceless piece of advice from Maya Angelou and shocking insight from my mirror, I am able to change something in our daily lives for the better. Something which had never previously occurred to me. I imagine how amazing it would feel to watch someone’s eyes light up every time I walked into a room and I want to give that feeling to my children.

Test the mirror experiment for yourself and add a little more sunshine to your face for your child's sake! (You'll notice that when your eyes light up more often, it will make you feel happier too!)

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