Q. I'm sure every parent goes through this, but when my 8-year-old rolls her eyes at me, I lose my cool. How can I get her to stop without nagging or blowing this out of proportion?
A. It's irritating. You tell your child it's time to set the table and rather than saying, "Sure Mom, I'd be happy to" or, "In a minute -- as soon as I finish my math homework," or "I can't believe you're asking me to do one more chore," she rolls her eyes in exasperation.
Eye rolling expresses disrespect. There you are making a reasonable request and your child responds with an eye roll as if to say, "You are so annoying." It's close to expressing contempt for what you've said, if not for you personally. Rolling eyes can quickly become a habit. Unfortunately, by losing your cool, nagging, or blowing this disconcerting behavior out of proportion, you are actually reinforcing it.
Your child knows that she and she alone controls those eyes and so will use them to communicate irritation especially since doing brings about a predicable emotional response from you. It's very powerful and thus rewarding for a child to trigger a parent's negative emotions. It's up to you to change your response to those rolling eyes so it won't work for your daughter any longer.
Here are some respectful responses to eye rolling:
- Say matter-of-factly to your child what those eyes are communicating: "You're irritated because I asked you to set the table. You can be irritated; nevertheless, it's time to do it."
- Say, "Eye rolling is disrespectful. I don't like it." Then turn and walk out of the room. This line expresses your opinion about those rolling eyes. By walking out of the room, you withdraw your attention, deflating the air in her eye-rolling balloon.
- Say for your child what her eyes are saying: "I'm irritated because you're asking me to do one more chore." This approach is effective because your child hears the exact words that she could be using to communicate her thoughts and feelings. In time will learn to use words rather than her eyes to speak her mind.
- Say clearly as you walk out of the room, "I can't be in the room with you when you roll your eyes."
- Say to your daughter without mentioning the eye rolls, "In this situation, it would be appropriate to say, 'I'm irritated because I don't want to interrupt the flow of my homework. I'll set the table in five minutes when I'm finished.'"
Furthermore, gasp! Your child is only 8 years old! Practice and use these responses when she rolls her eyes at you but realize that this behavior may be part of her pre-puberty, early adolescent, and teen communication repertoire. Therefore it may not disappear for a few years.
When you've make it through an eye rolling exchange without losing your cool, nagging, or blowing it out of proportion, take a deep breath and say lovingly to yourself, "I'm fine; I'm a good person and mother. This behavior of my daughter's will pass."
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, June 2005.