Understanding Eye Rolling in Children: A Parent's Guide

Apr 4


Jay Marie

Jay Marie

  • Share this article on Facebook
  • Share this article on Twitter
  • Share this article on Linkedin

Eye rolling in children can be a perplexing behavior for parents. It's often seen as a hallmark of teenage disdain, but the reasons behind this nonverbal cue can be complex. While it's easy to interpret eye rolling as a sign of disrespect, it's important to consider the context and underlying emotions that may be driving your child's actions. This guide will delve into the nuances of eye rolling, helping parents discern between expressions of disrespect and emotional responses, and provide strategies for addressing this behavior constructively.

The Psychology Behind Eye Rolling

Eye rolling is a form of nonverbal communication that can convey a range of emotions,Understanding Eye Rolling in Children: A Parent's Guide Articles from annoyance to embarrassment. It's a behavior commonly associated with adolescents, but even younger children might exhibit this action in response to various situations. Understanding the psychology behind eye rolling can help parents navigate these moments with empathy and insight.

When Eye Rolling Signals Discomfort

Consider a scenario where a child rolls their eyes after being corrected in front of their peers. This action might stem from social discomfort rather than outright disrespect. Public correction can be embarrassing, and eye rolling may be a defensive response—a silent plea for the parent to recognize their discomfort. In such cases, it's advisable for parents to be mindful of their child's feelings and choose a more private moment for correction.

Distinguishing Between Disrespect and Emotional Responses

Eye rolling accompanied by defiant body language, such as crossed arms, can indicate disrespect and should be addressed by parents. However, if a child rolls their eyes while displaying signs of embarrassment or defeat, such as blushing or slumping shoulders, this is likely an emotional response rather than an act of defiance. Parents should be cautious not to misinterpret these cues and should strive to understand the child's perspective before reacting.

Strategies for Addressing Eye Rolling

When faced with eye rolling, parents should consider the following approaches:

  1. Assess the Context: Before responding, evaluate the situation. Was the eye rolling a reaction to a joke, a command, or a public correction?
  2. Communicate Openly: Engage in a calm conversation with your child about their eye rolling, seeking to understand their feelings and perspective.
  3. Set Clear Expectations: Explain to your child why eye rolling can be perceived as disrespectful and discuss appropriate ways to express their emotions.
  4. Choose Your Battles: If the eye rolling is harmless and not part of a pattern of disrespectful behavior, it may be best to let it go.
  5. Model Respectful Behavior: Demonstrate how to handle disagreements and frustrations without resorting to dismissive gestures like eye rolling.

Eye Rolling: A Developmental Perspective

Eye rolling is not just a random act of rebellion; it's often a part of the developmental process. As children grow into teenagers, they seek more autonomy and may use eye rolling as a way to assert their independence. According to a study published in the journal "Developmental Psychology," adolescents who feel their autonomy is being threatened are more likely to engage in oppositional behaviors, including eye rolling (Developmental Psychology, 2011).


Eye rolling in children can be a nuanced behavior that requires careful interpretation by parents. By understanding the emotional and developmental underpinnings of this action, parents can respond in ways that foster open communication and respect. It's important to remember that each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Patience and empathy are key in guiding children through the complexities of growing up and learning to express themselves in a respectful manner.