The Power of "Joint Attention"
Even as adults, we crave connection & daily reminders that who we are matters, that we are worthy of love & acceptance just as we are. "Joint attention" is a simple yet powerful way we can communicate that to the kids in our lives.
Oh, how a simple nightly routine of walking around the neighborhood can spark philosophical thoughts & healthy reminders.
My 21 month old Steele has developed quite a memory. There is a spot on the sidewalk in front of our house that is significantly uneven and ants tend to wander along its protruding edge. He has stopped here countless times exclaiming, “Ant-tee!” whilst squatting or more recently laying on the ground to observe them. Even when there are no ants, the reaction is still the same.
It is all too easy for me to feign excitement or not even respond at all after the 50th time. I’ll occasionally throw in a half hearted “Wow!” as I grab my phone in the break from our walk. But a heart wrenching realization makes me remember the power of “joint attention” and how it’s important to meet our kids in their wonder.
Here’s an example. Think back to a time you were with a friend and spontaneously you remembered something really exciting you wanted to share. You expected that they, as any good friend would, respond with equal enthusiasm, but instead this friend kept scrolling through their Instagram newsfeed. Didn't even look up. Didn't even hear you.
Feels crappy, doesn't it?
There are so many intrinsic values to joint attention for both adult and child. All too well, I know the temptation to say “He’s engaged and he can play independently for a little. I need a break.” When we take the time to look at ants for the 57th time, we are saying with our intentionality that who you are and what you are interested in matters to me. Additionally, as their brains are ever changing and growing, the 50th time you look at the ants on the sidewalk together may be the time your child will discover or wonder new concepts about the physical world around them. It can feel mind numbingly repetitive to you but your child is investigating the world so over and over again with renewed child like wonder.
Intentionally put your devices away for an amount of time for a minimum of 10 minutes or longer to solely engage with whatever your child is doing. If they're reading, ask them about the illustrations, count the number of trees or objects on each page. If they're playing with their kitchen toys, make & eat food together! Make the interaction count :)