Infants whose caregivers show decreased eye gaze during play may grow up to have shorter attention spans. Psychologists at Indiana University studied sustained attention – the amount of time a caregiver looked at an object and the amount of time a child looked at the same object. Researchers found that child-led engagements, where the caregiver let the child choose they toys of interest, often results in longer sustained attention times. When both the infant and the caregiver looked at the same object for more than 3.6 seconds, the infant maintained attention an average 2.3 seconds longer on the object, even after the caregiver’s eyes had moved away from the object.
While 5.9 seconds total doesn’t seem like a lot of time, it was 4x longer than those infant’s whose eyes moved away quickly. These seconds add up over the course of each day and snowball over weeks and months.
“The ability of children to sustain attention is known as a strong indicator for later success in areas such as language acquisition, problem-solving and other key cognitive development milestones,” said Chen Yu, who led the study. “Caregivers who appear distracted or whose eyes wander a lot while their children play appear to negatively impact infants’ burgeoning attention spans during a key stage of development.”
3 ways to increase your child’s sustained attention
- Look at your child when talking and playing.
- Turn off the tv, put away the tablet, and quit sneaking peeks at your iPhone.
- Follow your child’s lead. If your child wants to play with a particular toy or book, then play with that item. (Even if it is the umpteenth time in the last 10 minutes.)
Parenting is hard work, but take the time to gaze in to your child’s eyes and engage with them. You’ll help with their speech-language development and engage in quality moments.
Jann Fujimoto, MS CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and owner of SpeechWorks LLC. SpeechWorks provides speech therapy to children in their Oconomowoc, Ixonia, Watertown, Dousman, Delafield, Hartland, and Pewaukee homes, after-school programs, & daycare centers. SpeechWorks helps children become confident communicators and empowers parents to be their child’s speech-language advocate. Reach her at 262-490-5653.