Increasing Joint Attention at Home

During your speech therapy sessions, your speech-language pathologist may suggest working on increasing joint attention. Joint attention is the ability to share focus on the same object with another person. This is a skill we use all the time with toddlers without even thinking about it. We need joint attention to read a book together, play peek-a-boo, and participate in songs and fingerplays. Without these foundational skills, early talkers have a difficult time creating meaningful communication opportunities with others.

So, how can parents work on increasing joint attention at home? Below are some ideas and tricks to use during play and daily routines.

  • Row Your Boat: Incorporating familiar songs into a fun, interactive activity is always an easy way to work on joint attention. I often like having the child sit in an empty laundry basket or a small chair to act as the “boat” and gently rock the child back and forth while singing Row Your Boat. To make this activity more interactive and exciting for the child, you can add a second verse, such as “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. If you see an alligator, close your eyes (cover your eyes with your hands) and scream (while tickling the child).”
    • Helpful Tip! Sit directly in front of your child at eye level. You want to make sure to put yourself where your child is going to look!
  • Sneezing Game: This game also assists the child in learning how to take turns, while also adding an element of surprise. Turn any toy into a makeshift “hat,” place the item on your head and “sneeze it off” your head. Your child is then able to retrieve the object and bring it back to you for another turn. You can also have your child take turns placing the item on his or her head and pretending to sneeze.
    • Helpful Tip! Make your voice happy and exciting! Make big facial expressions and don’t be afraid to get a little silly.
  • Incorporate Joint Attention Into Daily Routines: Making your child a necessary part of their own daily routines is an easy and simple way to increase joint attention at home. For example, if your child wants a snack, have them hold an empty bowl or plate while you prepare the snack. Once the food is ready, have your child hand you the bowl or plate. This may take prompting at first, but eventually it should become a part of the routine. You can also do this during diaper changes, brushing teeth, bath time, or while getting a drink.
    • Helpful Tip! Use simple language to talk about what you are doing. For example, you can say “pour in” while pouring the snack into the bowl.