What is Joint Attention and Why it Matters

Understanding Joint Attention in Child Development

Children’s development in their early childhood years is very crucial and can determine their developmental trajectory as they age. We may not yet realize it now but it’s important to invest time and focus on our kids’ development from birth to 6 years. Joint attention is one of the several skills we would want to see in our kids during these years. 

What is joint attention in child development? Know more about this and why it matters to know its signs and how to improve your child’s joint attention abilities through this article.

What is Joint Attention

Joint attention is a behavior when one person purposely coordinates his or her focus of attention with that of another person. It involves two people paying attention to the same thing or event, with the intention to interact.

During the first months of the newborn, the communication between the infant and the mother or caregiver is generally face-to-face without involving any object yet. The time comes when objects or events begin to occur in between this mother & child interaction which becomes “triadic” or “three-way”, involving the baby, the mother and some external object or event. This is when joint attention in child development happens—where the child’s ability to share a common focus on something with someone else is visible.

What Are the Signs of Joint Attention

Joint attention’s early signs are seen as early as the newborn stage and develop throughout early childhood and are basically solid when they reach 18 months old. It typically begins with eye gazing at 4-6 months of age.

According to The Early Learning Institute, a child is demonstrating joint attention when he has these signs at a certain age:

  • A 6-month-old should be able to follow the gaze of his parent by turning to whatever the parent is looking at.
  • At about 8-9 months, babies begin pointing.  They will point as well as use their eye gaze to get someone’s attention directed to the object at which they are looking.
  • Once a baby is over 9 months you will see gaze checking; when they are looking to see that you are looking at the same object.

Signs That a Child Is Not Developing His Joint Attention Abilities

While there are signs that parents should look for to know if their child is developing his joint attention skills, there are also signs that the child is doing otherwise. This should help parents to be aware of the early signs rather than giving worries when their child manifests these signs. Still, seeking advice from professional experts is best.

  • You have to work hard to engage your child in a shared activity such as peekaboo
  • Your child prefers to play alone
  • Your child does not respond or inconsistently responds to his name

How Important Joint Attention for Children Is

In my previous article, I have shared the five (5) areas of skill development that a child must be exhibiting at a certain age. These include cognitive, speech and language, social and emotional, motor skills and daily living skills. Three of these 5 areas will be affected by how a child develops his joint attention skills. Establishing joint attention according to the Growing Early Minds organization is vital for developing a child’s social-communication and cognitive skills. 

For Learning Language

Communication is one of the key skills to survive in life. Babies when they cry, point out something and other gestures are their earliest forms of communication. These acts are just as important as developing a child’s joint skills as they grow. 

Studies show that interacting with babies to form a joint attention, helps them to learn a language. When adults want to interact with the baby through joint attention, the baby comes to realize that adults want to share attention with them and convey information about an object or event. Through these interactions, babies discover meanings and eventually learn a language and how to communicate them. 

For Social Skill Development

Joint attention is important because it is needed for shared attention in social interactions and for the child to develop social skills. Important social skills like bonding and understanding another person’s perspective are developed through joint attention. Without it, children may find it challenging to interact and form relationships with their caregivers and peers.

How to Improve a Child’s Joint Attention Skills

There are several tips and strategies to encourage joint attention skills development in a child. These may include the following:

  1. Eye contact

Focus on faces and encourage your child to look at you when you call his name. Eye contact is one sign for children diagnosed with autism so talk with your doctor if you find it difficult to make eye-to-eye contact with your child.

  1. Nursery rhymes and music

Singing songs is a fun way to get your baby’s attention and stimulates their energy to interact with you. There’s a reason why nursery rhymes are tuned the way they are—to catch kids’ attention. Use this to do the same thing to your baby to motivate them to communicate with you.

Musical Rhymes Book:

  1. Use the toys they like

Find toys that they are interested in and play with them actively. You may need to show a high amount of interest and enjoyment while playing with them so that they’ll participate the way you want them to.

  1. Read books with them

Reading books with your child whether at bedtime or just to pass time in the afternoon is one great way to improve his joint attention, while improving his thinking and reading skills. They may be unable to read yet but this is a great stepping stone for them to learn words, understand their meaning and eventually, would get into a habit of reading as you do this consistently.

Box of Books:

  1. Respond to your baby’s gestures

Babies like to point to things that they want to do, eat or grab. When you follow their gestures, you end up doing joint attention without being aware of it. Responding to their gestural cues through words helps them to put labels on that specific gesture and will help language development when you translate their gestures into words.


Parenthood is indeed a tough job for anyone. The key here is to understand what your child is going through. Perhaps, you might need to feel like a child again and put yourself in their shoes.

There are heaps of ways to help your child develop his joint attention skills. Below list from Therapies for Kids could help you improve your child’s joint attention:

  • Play or sit directly opposite to your child.
  • Position yourself to gain eye contact and lots of smiles.
  • Assist focus on your face by using hats, sunglasses, stickers, etc.
  • Use cause and effect toys in play.
  • Use an animated voice and facial expressions.
  • Initiate non-verbal gestures during play.
  • Blow bubbles, play peekaboo games to gain your child’s attention.
  • Play games that involve taking turns, i.e. rolling a ball between each other.
  • Develop imitation skills during play in both fine and gross motor games.
  • Follow your child’s lead and play with their preferred toy or activity.