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  • Writer's pictureLena Agree JD, PsyD

What is “Joint Attention,” and Why is it So Important for Your Nanny to do it with Your Child?



AKA: How Your Nanny Can Support Your Child’s Social-Emotional Development; Part 3/4


According to research there are 4 behaviors every childcare worker should practice to support children’s social-emotional development no matter what the child’s age. These are:

o Contingent responding

o Warmth/positive affect/positive regard

o Joint attention

o Responsive routines and limits


We discussed contingent responding and warmth in the first two parts of this series. Let’s take a look at joint attention, so you know what to look for in a nanny/au pair (and can also apply it yourself).


Joint attention is the experience of focusing on something (an object, event, idea etc.) with another person, while being aware of the other person’s simultaneous focus. It is a meaningful interpersonal and emotional experience for children and adults alike. We seek joint attention all the time: whenever we endeavor to share something with someone. It is a powerful antidote to feeling alone.


Our need for joint attention is the reason why it feels bad when you are watching a movie or TV show with someone and that person is looking at their phone. There is an aloneness to it that can be hard to put into words.


A good child caregiver engages in joint attention with the child both frequently and for varying durations of time. Examples include exploring an object of interest to the child (eg: the plastic container drawer in the kitchen), playing with a toy, reading a book, or baking cookies together. Importantly, successful joint attention requires that the caregiver show interest in what the child is focused on(not the other way around) and that she follow the child’s lead throughout the interaction.


Engaging in joint attention is an important aspect of supporting young children’s social-emotional, as well as cognitive and language development. In older children, joint attention is a pillar of a successful relationship. Joining any child in an activity, without taking control, communicates “I recognize that you have your own unique mind, and you are interesting and important to me.”


Please read Part 4- Responsive Routines for the fourth sign that your nanny is supporting your child’s social-emotional development.


Based on research by:

Atkins-Burnett, Sally, Shannon Monahan, Louisa Tarullo, Yange Xue, Elizabeth Cavadel, Lizabeth Malone, and Lauren Akers (2015). Measuring the Quality of Caregiver-Child Interactions for Infants and Toddlers (Q-CCIIT). OPRE Report 2015-13. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Halle, T., Anderson, R., Blasberg, A., Chrisler, A., & Simkin, S. (2011). Quality of caregiver- child interactions for infants and toddlers (QCCIIT): A Review of the Literature, OPRE 2011- 25. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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