Two cute little boys enjoying playing with bubbles

Your Budding Little Chatterbox Wants Your Attention

You've got an emerging toddler on your hands!

A child approaching their first birthday is in some ways an emerging toddler and in other ways still a baby. 

Whether cruising or beginning to walk, your child is lively and more mobile than ever before. Their blossoming imagination means mastering new skills and welcoming new challenges. At this stage, your child will especially want to share recognition in whatever’s catching their interest. 

Joint attention – when a child and caregiver share attention to an object or location – is a vital part of language development at the one-year mark. While playing with a toy, for example, your baby might look at you, then the toy, then back to you again. That’s joint attention. An important signal of joint attention that’s likely to emerge is pointing. It’s not as rude as grandma made it out to be. 

Studies show that one-year-olds are motivated to point for all sorts of complex, sophisticated reasons.

A 2004 study placed infants in a highchair across from a series of closed windows. A single window would open, showing a puppet. One-year-olds were overwhelmingly most engaged when an adult shared their attention and interest in the puppet, with reactions like “That’s so interesting!” (Liszkowski). Your baby may point to the food in front of them, but they’re just as eager to point to an object that’s no longer there, or an object you’ve dropped without realizing it, or an object you’ve pointed to. Their core motivation in pointing is to share their experience of the world (Day). 

It turns out, the amount of time spent in joint attention and pointing is a strong predictor of your child’s early vocabulary growth. A 2008 study revealed that infants who spent a longer time following and gazing at the target object had a much faster vocabulary growth than those with shorter looks; adding infant pointing only strengthened those results. Maternal education – whether one has a GED or an advanced degree – had little effect on an infants language development. Young word learners rely on a caretaker’s gaze and shared attention to help build their vocabulary from the first to second year (Brooks).

Interaction is also key when reading with your 12-month old: infants make more speech-like sounds (babbling) when reading than in other activities, and caretakers have been shown to be more responsive. Imitating, or expanding on, an infant’s speech-like sounds during reading time is just as important as the number of books you read together. It’s not just what you read, but how you read together (University).


Sources:

Brooks, Rechelle, and Andrew Meltzoff. “Infant Gaze Following and Pointing Predict Accelerated Vocabulary Growth through Two Years of Age: a Longitudinal, Growth Curve Modeling Study*.” Washington.edu, 2008, ilabs.washington.edu/meltzoff/pdf/08_Brooks_Meltzoff_JChildLang.pdf. 

Day, Nicholas. “Your Baby Pointing Means Much More Than You Think It Does.” Slate Magazine, 26 Mar. 2013, www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies_work/2013/03/26/research_on_babies_and_pointing_reveals_the_action_s_importance.html.

Liszkowski, U, et al. “Twelve-Month-Olds Point to Share Attention and Interest.” Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, 7 June 2004. PubMed, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15595371.

University of Iowa. “Interaction during reading is key to language development.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 January 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160108134834.htm>.

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