Joint attention uses shared gaze and/or behaviors to communicate with a social partner. Joint attention is an important developmental skill that helps develop a child’s social language. This social developmental skill shows that a child is not only interested in objects in their environment, but in people too.
Joint attention usually first occurs between a child and their caretaker. A child can indicate, to their caretaker, their interest in an object or activity through gaze. A child can also use gestures such as pointing to engage their social partner in communication.
Social referencing: occurs when a child looks at an object, then back to the caretaker to see their reaction to the object
Milestones of Joint Attention
- 2 Months: taking turns with looks, noises, and/or mouth movements
- 6 Months: following caretakers gaze
- 8 Months: pointing
- 9 Months: gestures and social referencing
- 12 Months: point intentionally
- 12-14 Months: direct attention through pointing and then looking back at caretaker
Tips for engaging your child in joint attention
- Follow your lead: Use vocal engagement to have your child share enjoyment with you. Pointing to an object such as a ball or a toy will teach your child to share in your enjoyment.
- Establish your child’s interest: experiment with different toys, books, or movement activities (ex: tickling). Discover which activities seem to get your child’s attention best.
- Reinforce Proximity: reinforce your child’s interest by engaging them in an activity. Place the toy or walk away from the activity a couple of feet. To reengage the child wait for them to come towards you and engage you before beginning the activity again.
- Level of engagement: have your child increase their level of engagement with you
- Looking directly at you or the object
- Reaching for the object
- Pointing for the object
- Pointing at the object and looking at you
- Increase the amount of time the child is engaged
- You choose: Interest your child in a variety of activities and toys to open their interest in an activity that is something of your choosing.
Rachel Weiser, MS, DT