Playing With Babies Helps Them Learn to Pay Attention

The longer a parent pays attention to something, the longer baby does: study
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2016 1:11 PM CDT
Playing With Babies Helps Them Learn to Pay Attention
Adults play with children in a file photo.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Want your child to have a good attention span? You can help them to develop it starting at a young age, researchers say. A new study published in Current Biology finds that "when parents play with objects with their children," they help their children learn to sustain attention, researcher Chen Yu says in a press release. If a parent pays attention to an object, their infant will pay attention to it for a longer period of time than he or she otherwise would. And the longer the parent pays attention to the object, the longer the infant will—even after the parent looks away. The study notes that parents who notice what their infants are interested in and respond to those interests likely help their babies learn to self-regulate their attention skills, and another press release out of Indiana University notes that parents who did that were more successful at getting their babies to pay attention than parents who tried to force interest in a particular object.

The study looked at 36 parents and their 11- to 13-month-old children, as the parents "actively encourage[d] their infant to play with" a number of "highly engaging and novel toys," the study says. (Yu tells CBS News the results were also replicated with 18-month-olds and 2-year-olds.) The researchers note that parents interacting with and playing with their kids may play a large role in the children's cognitive development and success in school, since, as the study notes, "sustained attention ... is linked to object exploration, language development, and problem solving." And, the researchers say, the study is a reminder to parents that being distracted by smartphones may hurt their babies' long-term attention skills. The results were somewhat surprising, since attention has previously been viewed as an individual skill, but this study shows there is a social aspect to its development. (Here's why you should sing to your baby.)

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