“Show, Hold, Give”… Improving Joint Attention in Toddlers


Joint attention, or being able to shift and share attention, is soooo important for language development. It’s a skill that’s missing in lots of late talkers, particularly those with red flags for autism. You can read more about joint attention here and here.

In this post, I want to share my very best strategy for teaching parents to work on improving joint attention at home. I call this strategy…

Show, hold, and give.

Show a child the item that’s necessary for the next step. As you show him, you’ll ask him to look as you name it and talk about it. After he’s looked at you and the item as you talk about it (a big part of joint attention), move on to let him…

Hold the item as you prepare to use it. You’ll continue to talk about what you’re doing using the keywords (listening is a big part of joint attention), and then move on to ask him to…

Give you the item so that you can use it.

Real-Life Application

Let’s look at this example in a diaper changing routine. To introduce the activity, say something like,

“Let’s go change your diaper. First, we need a diaper.”

Point toward the diaper as you’re walking to it and before you pick it up. Once you have it, hold it up to show him the diaper. Say something like,

“See! It’s the diaper!”

You may even hold the diaper in one hand and point with your other hand to teach him to watch for your point as you say other words like, “Look! We have a diaper!” Then say,

“We have the diaper! Here. You hold the diaper.”

Let him hold the diaper while you’re getting things ready to change him. Then say,

“Now we’re ready. Give me the diaper.”

Offer your hand so he can give you the diaper. If he doesn’t hand it over, ask a couple more times. If he doesn’t hand it over, use your free hand to help him put it in your open hand.

Expand the Routine

Expand your “Show – Hold – Give” routines by letting a child hold several items as “the next” step in the routine. For diaper changes, she could first hold a wipe, then the clean diaper, then her pants or any other item that comes next in her family’s changing routine.


Read more practical strategies to help you improve a toddler’s joint attention skills in my therapy manual Let’s Talk About Talking…11 Skills Toddlers Master Before Words Emerge. This resource is in hot demand! Get your copy before it’s sold out again!

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