How is Pointing Related to Joint Attention: A Guide for Parents

Pointing is a common gesture that we use to direct someone’s attention to something. But did you know that pointing is also a crucial skill for children’s language and social development? In this article, we will explain how pointing is related to joint attention, why joint attention is important, and how you can help your child develop this skill.

What is Joint Attention?

Joint attention is the shared focus of two people on an object or event, for the purpose of interacting or socializing with each other. It involves eye-gazing, pointing, or other verbal or non-verbal cues to coordinate attention. It is a form of early social and communicative behaviour that helps build cognitive and social-communication skills.

Joint attention can be initiated by the child or by the other person. For example, a child may point to a toy and look at their parent to get them to look at it too. This is called initiating joint attention. Alternatively, a parent may point to a ball and say, “look at the ball!”. The child responds by following the parent’s gaze and gesture to look at the ball. This is called responding to joint attention.

Why is Joint Attention Important?

Being able to establish joint attention is vital for developing language and social skills. In order for a child to learn a word, they have to hear it and associate the label with an object. To illustrate, a typically developing child will look at the dog that their parents are pointing to, and hear them say “Dog”. They look back at their parents to make sure that they are talking about the dog, and then look back at the dog again. As they hear the word, “dog” over and over again, they start to link the word “dog” with that furry four-legged creature wagging its tail.

Joint attention also helps develop important social skills such as bonding and seeing another’s point of view. When children play, they share a common focus on toys or activities. They also share ideas and emotions through joint attention. For example, a child may point to a picture in a book and say, “Look! A funny monkey!”. The other person may respond by laughing and saying, “Yes, it’s very funny!”. This way, they create a shared experience and understanding.

How is Pointing Related to Joint Attention?

Pointing is one of the most common ways of initiating or responding to joint attention. Pointing can be done using the index finger or the whole hand. Pointing can also be accompanied by vocalizations or words. Pointing helps children communicate their interests, needs, or wants to others. It also helps them learn new words and concepts by directing their attention to relevant objects or events.

Pointing can also be used to describe or comment on something. For example, a child may point to a flower and say, “Pretty!”. This way, they express their opinion and invite the other person to share it. Pointing can also be used to ask questions or request information. For example, a child may point to a bird and say, “What’s that?”. This way, they show curiosity and seek knowledge.

How Can You Help Your Child Develop Joint Attention and Pointing Skills?

There are many ways you can help your child develop joint attention and pointing skills. Here are some tips:

– Follow your child’s lead. Observe what your child is interested in and join them in their play. Comment on what they are doing or looking at. For example, if your child is playing with blocks, you can say, “Wow! You made a tower!”.

– Use gestures and eye contact. When you talk to your child, use gestures such as pointing, nodding, or waving to emphasize your message. Also make eye contact with your child when you speak or listen to them. This way, you show them that you are paying attention and interested in what they have to say.

– Model pointing. Show your child how to point by pointing to things yourself. For example, you can point to a picture in a book and say, “Look! A cat!”. You can also point to things that your child may not notice or know about. For example, you can point to a plane in the sky and say, “Look! A plane!”.

– Encourage pointing. Praise your child when they point to something or respond to your pointing. For example, you can say, “Good pointing!” or “Yes! That’s a car!”. You can also ask your child questions that require pointing as an answer. For example, you can say, “Where is the ball?” or “Can you show me the dog?”.

– Play games that involve pointing. There are many games that you can play with your child that involve pointing. For example, you can play peek-a-boo, hide and seek, or I spy. You can also use toys that have buttons, switches, or lights that your child can point to and activate.


Pointing is a simple but powerful gesture that helps children develop joint attention, language, and social skills. By following your child’s lead, using gestures and eye contact, modeling pointing, encouraging pointing, and playing games that involve pointing, you can help your child learn and grow. Remember to have fun and enjoy the moments of shared attention with your child!

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