Joint attention is the shared focus of two people on an object. It is achieved when one person alerts another to an object via eye contact, pointing, or other verbal or non-verbal means. Joint attention is an important part of learning language, because we learn through interaction with other people. Language is ultimately a social way of interacting, and in order to communicate with others we must first demonstrate the social skill of jointly attending with them. When a child does not independently engage in joint attention it is important to target this skill to increase their ability to absorb language and other developmentally appropriate skills.
Strategies to encourage Joint attention include the following:
- Give your child objects at your eye level to encourage eye contact
- Try to be at your child’s eye level while playing
- Play social games such as peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, hide and seek, etc.
- If your child becomes overly focused on a toy, tap them and say their name to remind him that you are there and playing with the toy too.
- Use animated voices and exaggerated faces while playing. Animated voices and faces are fun for kids and will create a positive experience that may encourage future eye contact.
- Use verbal routines such as “ready, set…go!” to alert your child that something exciting is about to happen. This should encourage them to look towards you to find out what that is.
- Do what your child likes. They will be more likely to wish to interact with you if you are doing something that is fun for them.
Activity ideas to practice joint attention:
- Peek-a-Boo: Peek-a-Boo is a fun social game that encourages turn taking and eye contact.
- Bubbles: Bring the bubble wand to your eyes before blowing a bubble to encourage your child to look at you. Once they look at you blow bubbles as a reward. To make the game more interactive you can move around the room and only blow more bubbles when your child follows you and looks at you.
- Scavenger Hunt: Hide objects around the house (or a specific room) and try to find them together. When you find an object point and say “look!” to encourage your child to jointly attend to the object with you. You can then bring the object to your eye level to encourage eye contact. If they find something celebrate while standing/sitting/laying at his or her eye level.
- Choo-Choo Train: Lay your child on their back and hold their legs while leaning over them. Say: “the train is going up the track” while lifting their legs in the air. Say: “the train is going down the track” while bringing their legs down to the floor. Repeat this several times. Then push their legs in and out while saying “chuga chuga chuga chuga chuga chuga”. When your child makes eye contact with you say “choo-choo!” while lifting their legs into the air. (activity credit: Laura Mize teachmetotalk.com).