Facilitating joint engagement

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Recent research indicates that when engaged in joint parent-child activities, young children are in a position to compare their own feelings about an event with their adult partner’s emotional reaction to it. Children may also experience their adult partner as an intentional being who can react to their actions and initiate new actions.

Find out more about the research around joint engagement.


Joint engagement activities in art therapy can help the dyad to engage with each other in new and perhaps unexpected ways. These include facilitating new connections, breaking stalemates, and helping them to mentalise each other.

Joint engagement activities require less preparation than other approaches as the demands on the parent or carer are fewer, and they are asked simply to join their child in the image making.

The therapists may choose to set up or encourage joint art-making activities for parent and child. Sometimes the therapist will set specific tasks for the dyad, perhaps asking them to draw an image relating to a particular question or task. At other times the therapist may be less directive and just suggest that the dyad makes something together.

These joint-engagement activities offer the dyads ring-fenced time together with opportunities to work co-operatively, be creative, have some fun and be playful.

Occasionally therapists choose to take part in the joint making activities so the dyad can experience them as helpful and present rather than as an external onlooker which might raise too much anxiety.

Related goal

This step is related to achieving the goal joining up people, ideas and actions.

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