Shared Attention and why it is important for children
Latest Posts • 22. august 2022
Shared Attention – that is the ability to share attention. Sounds simple, but in fact it must be experienced and learned by young children before they can derive certain behaviors from it. Shared Attention is an important socialization experience. Below, I will explain why it is so significant and what can happen if it falls short.
To experience Shared Attention, we need to experience what it is like to focus on one thing together. This thing can be a shared activity, but it can also simply be looking forward to something or doing something together with another person. Children experience this, for example, when you look at a picture book with them or cook something together. In such moments, we experience connectedness and fellowship.
Shared attention is also the prerequisite for being able to form communities and to engage in activities together. For children who do not have this experience, it can become difficult to interact and build relationships with caregivers and peers. This is because the experience of Shared Attention helps develop important social skills such as bonding and receiving insight into the other person’s point of view.
Specifically, this means that a child may be overwhelmed with certain situations if he or she has lacked Shared Attention in the past. For example, a couple of children want to build a tree house together. One of the children lacks Shared Attention experiences. He wants to be part of it, but he is not able to do so. Instead of planning and building, the child disturbs the others by demanding attention.
While this is tolerated in toddlers – just think of the little sibling who knocks over the just-built block tower of the big sister or brother – an older child will be offended by such behavior and is deprived of nice experiences himself or herself.
The ability to establish joint attention is critical to the development of social communication and cognitive skills. In children with normal development, the ability for Shared Attention actually begins to form early after birth. And at age three, children are usually able to obtain and maintain Shared Attention from adults and peers.
Not enough challenges
Closely related to a lack of Shared Attention can be a lack of challenges. Personally, I can see this happening a lot. Children rarely have the opportunity to show what they can accomplish together with others. Our lives are absolutely school-ridden. Children are constantly taught and instructed, but are rarely allowed to gain a few experiences themselves. Today, the most important thing is sitting still – in school (even during group work) and later in the office.
Children lack opportunities to develop impulse control and action planning.
Parents can do a few things to help their child develop the ability for shared attention in the best possible way. What is important here is a certain amount of trust in the child’s abilities and, of course, time and patience. The idea of a child spending hours peacefully playing with toys all by himself or herself sounds great at first, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But there is a reason why many children rarely do this and prefer to demand the attention of the people around them. And if it is possible, the wish to play together should be taken into account or the child can be involved in whatever you are doing at the moment. Of course, this is not always possible, but we as parents often have to admit that an activity with a child may take longer, but it is not impossible – this includes numerous activities that occur during the day in the household. And it is worth it for everyone involved if we take this time more often. Because the child will not only learn Shared Attention, but also many other things that he or she may soon be able to do all alone. And that, in turn, is probably in the interest of all parents.
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