Gaining Joint Attention and Social Reference in Children
An important skill that begins to form around 9 months in cognitive development and we see fully around 18 months is joint attention. Joint attention is when two people have a common interest in an object or event and this interest is known by two people. Joint attention is a very important step in language development. Babies learn the names of objects through your repetition and manipulation. For example; “Apple!” he pointed to the apple on the table. When you say it, a baby with shared attention will focus on the apple on the table and memorize its name. At the same time, joint attention offers the opportunity to share what is happening around with other people. A baby with joint attention skills knows which event to follow. The lack of joint attention by babies is a harbinger of problems such as autism.
Social reference is a term that does not appear in our language much. Social referencing is when a child looks at his parent while doing a task and checks to see if the parent is looking at him. In fact, this controlling behavior is the child’s “Look what I’m doing here!” it’s a way of saying. Social referencing is a method that children use when committing an inappropriate behavior. The main purpose here is to measure the reaction of the parent. For example, if the child wants to buy the trinkets on the table that his mother loves and can break, he will look at the mother and measure her reaction while doing this behavior. The point we can suggest to our parents here is that you tell your children who are trying to get social reference that you are watching them. You can tell them that you are watching with feedback such as “Well done, how well you play”. In inappropriate behavior, you can reflect this request of the child to him; Like, “You’re trying to get the trinkets, you’re wondering about my reaction”.
Your crawling or toddler’s next job will be to explore objects that they couldn’t reach before. For example, your child slowly approached the flowers on the table and looked at you just as you were about to reach out. Depending on your reaction, he may reach out or withdraw his hand from the vase. At this point, what makes your child decide will be your reaction. This is the period when he starts to make his decision by reading your emotions from your facial expression. We call this action of your child “taking social reference”. Children, who understand the feelings of the other person, look at the facial expressions they see as they take the next step. When your child is waiting for your approval, this is the time to teach him what you want. “Yes, these are flowers and you want to reach them.” You can tell your child what he wants by saying. If you give him the flowers he is trying to reach and let him explore, your child will leave them after getting to know the flowers and this will make you less tired.