You may hear your therapist emphasize the importance of “joint attention” during their sessions with your child. What does this mean and why is it important?
Joint attention is when yourself and the other engaged parties are all sharing attention or interest on the same toy or activity AND there is a shared understanding that both are interested. When you are stacking blocks with your child and both of you are looking at the tower, that is a “shared gaze”, which is the first step towards joint attention. True joint attention is when you are stacking blocks with your child and you are exchanging eye contact between looking at the tower.
It is so important to share joint attention because it provides an extremely important foundation for communication, language, and cognitive development. Exchanging looks while playing is very basic communication and encourages social interaction. Children learn new skills when imitating the actions of others – which can be extremely difficult if you are not focused on the same object or another person!
Examples of ways you can encourage joint attention while playing:
Engage in activities that require turn taking – stacking blocks, rolling the ball back and forth, or completing a puzzle together where you hold the pieces.
Pause and wait for your child to communicate (either through eye contact or asking through signs or verbally) before providing the next piece or taking your turn.
Provide positive reinforcement – children love to be praised! Give high fives or verbal responses to encourage continued participation