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Now that you know what Joint Attention is and why it is important (and if you don't, check out my last blog post: Sharing Experiences and Building Language with Joint Attention), let's talk about how to build joint attention.
1. Remember that you are trying to SHARE an experience with your child. Try to begin building joint attention using something your child enjoys or is actively engaged in. Your child will not be focused on you or the toy if they don’t care about it.
2. Decide how you can take part in their play in the most playful of ways.
-Use Simple Exaggerated Noises/Words: Ohh, Wow, Ooo, Look, (gasp), (your child’s name)- Draw your child's attention from their toy to you, then have the toy do something exciting, silly, unexpected, or fun that your child may enjoy. Be fun and exaggerate. Even if your child doesn't enjoy your first attempt at engaging them, you can try something different next time. And if you managed to get their eyes to alternate from the TOY, to YOU, and back to the TOY, then you have done your job (even if you shared an awkward moment).
-Use Gestures Too: Point, Show them something, Bring things closer to your face to draw attention up- A common complaint that I hear from parents is that their child doesn’t always listen. And some kids may need a visual to direct their attention and all kids benefit from visuals. Though not all kids know how to follow a pointing finger or notice gestures initially. But when you do these in an exaggerated manner and pair with words or attention-gaining noises.
-Be Silly/Make Mistakes/Use Pauses- Kids so often notice when you say something incorrect or funny (even they don’t seem to be listening). Make mistakes on purpose… “The cow says Baaaa. (gasp) Oops!” This is a great way for you child to take their eyes off that puzzle piece or toy animal to look at you. They may even jump at the chance to correct you and say “cow go moo”. Whether your child verbally expresses that they know what the cow says or visually showed you that they heard your mistake (and their receptive language is working), you and your child are sharing joint attention.
3. Pick Your Toys Wisely- These toys will be ones that will allow you to playfully participate or be the keeper of the pieces, special toys that your child may not see everyday, toys that require turn-taking….
4. Joint Attention Isn’t Just for Toys- Songs are another great way to share an experience with your child, especially ones with gestures and predictable patterns. And they are a great time to use pauses hoping your child will fill in the blank with the word of a well known song and/or share the moment with you with eye contact (aka joint attention shifting from you back to the songs’ gestures) Some of my favorites are:
Wheels on the Bus
Itsy Bitsy Spider
This is the Way the Lady Rides
Ring Around the Rosie
5. Don’t forget...Wait for that eye contact. Even if it doesn’t happen with every attempt, continue to pause and use the strategies and toys suggested above. This may take time, but continue to observe/analyze what and why things work/don’t work to improve joint attention with YOUR child.
If your child is struggling with Joint Attention or seems to be behind with their Speech, Language, or Play skills, Contact a Speech-Language Pathologist.