PAREN(T)HESIS — Rolling with eye rolls

September 1, 2016

By Jill Rotherbueler Maher

NEW Jill Maher Headshot Dec 2013Smiles were the topic of conversation at a recent dinner. My husband and I enjoyed our meal with friends whose newborn just began smiling for the first time. We shared their excitement over that important facial expression.

Another friend joked that little humans are preprogrammed to smile just when their parents are getting to wits’ end with caring for a newborn. She thinks it’s a “survival of the species” hereditary pattern.

Whatever the reason, little smiles are an adorable signal between adults and children. As they transition from infant to toddler, some children will be taught sign language so they can clearly make requests like “more food” or its opposite, “all done.” It’s worth the time spent training kids because wee ones can typically signal with hands before their speech makes their desires clear.

As children transition to preteens, their nonverbal expressions can be more difficult to interpret. Our daughter recently started rolling her eyes. Of course, we didn’t teach her that one! Then again, we probably did unintentionally teach it by doing it ourselves.

We likely ignored the first time she did it and now we typically take it in stride. Sometimes we tease her that she’s giving us “teenager eyes.” We certainly haven’t used the retort that I’ve seen advocated on parenting blog Motherlode, which is, “That’s rude. I’m trusting you’ll soon find a more mature way to let me know what you’re thinking.”

I might keep that line in the back of my mind and paraphrase it when she gets more aggressive. So far, she has used it in more of a “you’re so goofy” manner than a “you’re sooooo annoying” manner. As she becomes a true preteen, eye-rolling might become a way to camouflage deeper feelings. She may find it an easier way to avoid a topic she doesn’t want to discuss or fears she’ll cry about. Then eye-rolling could be a way to stop a conversation without walking out of a room.

It’s difficult to remember my own preteen years, but I would guess I invoked this communication technique behind my parents’ backs much more than to their face. It’s odd to use a nonverbal expression that nobody else sees, but I’m guessing it can help a young person establish a sense of self. Kind of like slamming a bedroom door but lower on the annoyance scale.

Slamming a bedroom door is another milestone, one we haven’t experienced yet. When it happens, we probably won’t brag about it at dinner!

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

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