How to teach my baby to engage & show joint attention?


teach my baby to engage with me

What’s covered in this article?

Teach my baby joint attention – firstly what is it?

Many mums ask, “how do I teach my baby to engage with me?” and I often begin explaining joint attention and how to facilitate it during their everyday. So what is joint attention & how can I help my baby?

  • Joint attention is a back-and-forth type of play that involves an infant’s abilities to follow another person’s actions and to influence another person’s focus of attention.
  • It’s a sharing of an experience between your child and a partner (parent). Shared experience is looking at or directing attention to an object or an event.
  • Joint attention should be established by 18 months of age.

What behaviours should I look out for when I teach my baby joint attention?

Initiating joint attention

  • Pointing to object then back at adult (e.g. trying to show the adult what they see)
  • Seeing something motivating, looking at adult then back at the object (e.g. bubbles, something popping).
  • Holding up objects to to the adult using eye gaze to adult & object (e.g. for purpose of showing interest, not for help).

Responding to joint attention

  • Smiling as adult laughs or smiles playfully (e.g. during tickles or chasey).
  • Using eye gaze to follow an adult’s point to an object then back to adult (e.g. adult says look a plane as they point and child instantly looks at the plane).
  • Following and adults eye gaze (without a point). E.g. Adult says oh look daddy’s home & looks towards door, & child follows the gaze to the door.

Here’s a video explaining and demonstrating joint attention

Why is it important to teach my baby joint attention?

Response to joint attention (see responding examples above ↑) has been proven to be a later predictor of better language outcomes. In addition, children with Autism usually find initiating and responding to joint attention very difficult (an early indicator of Autism too), so it’s important that these skills are targeted early on so that they have the best chance to reach their communicative potential as either a non-verbal or verbal communicator. So teaching your baby joint attention is critical!

Teach by baby – tips to teaching joint attention:

How can I teach my baby joint attention?

  • A child’s interest in people, objects, and events is extremely important for joint-attention activities to be successful. Start by identifying things that especially interest your child.
  • Allow your child to initiate an activity.
  • Focus on activities such as singing songs, peekaboo, tickling, jack in the box/cause effect toys.
  • Model pointing (like this mum has) early on throughout your day!
  • Point to a toy that your child likes and say “look”. Wait for them to turn their head towards the toy and then give it to them. For some, you may need to physically touch them get their attention at first.
  • Blow bubbles and say “look” as you point to them.
  • If you kiddie is interested in books, model pointing and say “look a…”.
  • When another family member enters the room, point and say “look ___ is home”!

My baby or toddler has delayed joint attention, what should I do now?

My best advice is to focus on COPYING your child’s actions, gestures and sounds during play or daily life tasks. Many early intervention programs focus on intensive interactions of just copying a child. Once shared/joint attention is established, the adult/parent can then try to add something new to promote imitation. When you copy your child, they are more likely to notice you in their environment and eventually copy back (similar to a back-and-forth conversation).

Once you’re child shows some signs of joint attention, you can then begin working on imitation skills— the precursor to imitating and using words!

How to teach my baby or toddler imitation skills?

Teach your toddler to talk

Right at home during your everyday using the Imitation Builder – Speechie Parent Playbook.

Are you worried about your baby or toddlers’ communication development?

Make sure to check out the Online Speechie Screener. A tool that I developed back in 2019 (and continue to improve) to assist mums and dads with deciding what next steps to take. Either that be no action necessary, monitor and wait OR seek help sooner.

See more information here


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