Parents who look at their phones or get distracted when playing with their children may raise youngsters with short attention spans, research suggests.
Psychologists said they have found the first direct connection between how long a parent pays attention to a toy and the impact this has on their child's concentration.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, has implications for how a child goes on to perform at school, they added.
The experts tracked the eye movements of 36 parents and their one-year-old children by using head-mounted cameras.
They did not tell parents what they were looking for in order to ensure they were as natural as possible with their children.
The study, from experts at Indiana University, showed that the longer a parent, and therefore their baby, paid attention to an object while playing, the longer the baby kept paying attention to it, even after a parent stopped.
The shortest attention spans in babies were among those whose parents got distracted and looked elsewhere, or sat back and did not play along.
The researchers also found that parents who tried to direct play - such as by holding out toys and naming them - had children with lower attention spans than those who let their children take the lead with playing.
Dr Chen Yu, who led the study, said: "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.
"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.
"When you've got someone who isn't responsive to a child's behaviour, it could be a real red flag for future problems."
He said parents could "support and train" children to sustain attention through showing an interest in what their child is playing with.
"Because sustained attention matters to school success, this influence provides a way to understand individual differences in sustained attention and to potentially influence its development."
Dr Linda Smith, co-author of the study, said: "Our study is one of the first to consider attention as impacted by social interaction. It really appears to be an activity performed by two social partners since our study shows one individual's attention significantly influences another's." How to Build Trust to empower relations
Dr Yu said a lot of parents in the study who did play with their children were "trying too hard" and directing play.
"They were trying to show off their parenting skills, holding out toys for their kids and naming the objects. But when you watch the camera footage, you can actually see the children's eyes wandering to the ceilings or over their parents' shoulders -- they're not paying attention at all."
Parents who had more success were those who let their children take the lead.
"These caregivers waited until they saw the children express interest in a toy and then jumped in to expand that interest by naming the object and encouraging play," he said. Why Children Misbehave And How To Deal With Them
"The responsive parents were sensitive to their children's interests and then supported their attention."
When both parents and babies paid attention to a toy for more than 3.6 seconds, babies then continued looking at the object for 2.6 more seconds on average. This is four times longer than those whose parents lost interest in the toy. 18 Ways to Make Your Parents Feel Great
Dr Yu said that when these extra seconds are magnified over a play session - and those play sessions occur daily for months during a critical stage in mental development - the effect is significant.
Dr Smith added: "This effect, day in and day out in an infant's life, may be the source of strong skills in sustained attention and concentration."
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