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Waylon and Grandpa: A Continuous Contingent Interaction

man with beard holds grandchild

About this Video

This video shows an extended interaction between 10-month-old Waylon and his grandfather. The activity takes place in Waylon’s home while his father and older brother are playing with Legos nearby. The father-son conversation can be heard, but their activity does not seem to influence the interaction between Waylon and his grandfather until the end of the clip.

The kind of communication we see here between Waylon and Grandpa is sometimes called continuous contingent interaction. “Continuous” means that it keeps going as long as both participants are interested. “Contingent” means that each participant in the sequence is responding to something the other person has done.

The sound in the video is not very clear. The narrative below clarifies what is being said. It includes words spoken to Waylon, or about him, by Grandpa, Grandma, and Waylon’s mother, but not what Waylon’s father and brother are saying.

Waylon Investigates Grandpa’s Beard

The clip begins just after Grandpa has picked up Waylon from the floor. Waylon has not seen Grandpa for several months.  This is their first physical contact during their visit. Grandpa is the only person Waylon knows who has a beard. The two of them begin a series of actions and reactions in which the beard is the focus of attention.

Grandpa puts his forehead against Waylon’s. Waylon moves his head and upper body backward slightly, resting his left hand on his grandfather’s chest and looking at his face.

Grandpa also moves to put more distance between his face and Waylon’s. Waylon continues to gaze at him.  Grandpa bounces Waylon briefly and makes a “Pow!” sound.  Waylon moves his head and upper body around slightly while watching Grandpa’s face, as if to see it from different angles.  Grandpa smiles and raises his eyebrows at Waylon.

Waylon tentatively moves his left hand toward Grandpa’s beard, with one finger extended, while continuing to gaze at Grandpa’s face. Grandpa says, “He has such expressiveness” and laughs. Waylon continues to look at the beard, touching it with one finger. Grandpa rubs his beard against Waylon’s left hand. Waylon withdraws his hand but keeps his finger extended. Grandpa leans forward and rubs his beard on Waylon’s left hand again. He shifts the baby around in his arms. A puppet they were holding falls to the floor. Waylon continues to watch Grandpa’s face. Grandpa takes Waylon’s right hand and rubs it on his beard. Waylon withdraws his right hand when Grandpa releases it.

Waylon again moves his left hand toward the beard with one finger extended. Grandpa again moves the baby’s right hand briefly into full contact with his beard. Waylon moves his left hand toward the beard so that he is touching it with one finger. He vocalizes a few syllables. Grandpa smiles at Waylon.

“What is that stuff?” he says to Waylon. “What is that stuff, hunh?”

Waylon turns to look at the camera.

“Hi, little guy,” says his grandmother, who is videorecording.

Waylon quickly turns back to look at Grandpa. He points his finger toward Grandpa’s shirt collar button, then pokes the beard. Moving his hand again, he takes part of the beard between two fingers and pulls lightly.

Waylon’s mother laughs off-camera. Still touching Grandpa’s beard, Waylon turns to look at her as she says, “I like that finger-work.”

Waylon turns back to Grandpa and flicks the fingers of his left hand against the beard, as if to push it. Grandpa laughs. Waylon continues to touch the beard.  Grandpa rubs Waylon’s left hand with his beard and makes his beard move up and down by “making a face.”

Waylon turns to look down toward his father and brother, then pushes away from Grandpa’s chest. He seems to be signaling that he wants Grandpa to set him down. Just after the clip ended, Grandpa put Waylon on the floor.

Communicating with a Baby

During adult conversation, one person starts the interaction by speaking or gesturing. The other person responds to that initial act and the first person responds to the response, and the sequence continues—contingent or dependent on how the two people respond to each other. A baby who cannot speak can still interact with adults and other children in the same back-and-forth way that adults use in their conversations.

Either person can get these interactions started. For example, the baby might invite eye contact by vocalizing, crying, moving, smiling, or touching the other person. That person may respond by speaking, smiling, making a funny face, offering a toy or food, or touching the baby. This sequence of interaction continues until someone breaks the contact. Perhaps one or both lose interest, or are distracted by a sound or movement from somewhere else. Sometimes, something about the interaction becomes “too much” for a baby, who will turn away to regulate his or her emotions.

In this case, Grandpa initiated the interaction when he picked Waylon up. We see that his beard quickly catches Waylon’s interest, and the baby turns “being picked up” into an occasion for investigating this interesting aspect of Grandpa. Waylon and Grandpa go through several rounds of turn-taking, interrupted twice when Waylon turns to his grandmother and to his mother. Finally, in a move that suggests that he is done investigating the beard, Waylon turns to his father and brother and leans downward while pushing away from Grandpa. Waylon’s attention has shifted.

Interactions such as the one shown here are typical for babies and their families, but parents may not be aware of just how important they are. Research shows that continuous contingent interactions are essential to a baby’s development and learning. Taking turns—observing and responding—is basic to all communication. Waylon needs to pay attention to cues from others that inform him about what they want or need, and he needs to know how to get and hold their attention so they will understand what he tries to communicate. Such interaction sequences help babies bond with family members. These cycles can also help them begin to understand cause-and-effect relationships. (For example, “When I smile at people, they pay attention to me!”). As children grow older, continuous contingent interactions enable them to make and keep friends, gather information in school, play games and sports, and collaborate with others to solve problems.



The sound in the video is not clear and a transcript is not provided.

Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age Three and How They Were Met

This list shows how Waylon’s actions in the video relate to some standards in the birth-to-three guidelines.

Self-Regulation: Foundation of Development
Emotional Regulation
Children demonstrate the emerging ability to identify and manage the expression of emotion in accordance with social and cultural contexts.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months): Communicates needs to an adult, e.g., points, shakes head
  • Action: When Waylon wanted to be put down, he pushed back from his grandfather and leaned toward the floor.

Self-Regulation: Foundation of Development
Attention Regulation
Children demonstrate the emerging ability to process stimuli, focus and sustain attention, and maintain engagement in accordance with social and cultural contexts.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months): Focuses on one object or activity for a brief period of time, even with other objects close in proximity; still easily distracted
  • Action: Waylon paid close attention to his grandfather’s beard and mustache for more than a minute and continued with the interaction despite background noise and distractions.

Developmental Domain 1: Social & Emotional Development
Relationship with Adults
Children demonstrate the desire and develop the ability to engage, interact, and build relationships with familiar adults.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months):
    • Looks for caregiver’s response in uncertain situations
    • Uses “social referencing” when encountering new experiences, e.g., glances at a caregiver’s face for cues on how to respond to an unfamiliar person or unknown object
  • Action: Waylon allowed his grandfather to hold him and closely watched his grandfather’s reactions to his (Waylon’s) explorations. He also turned toward his mother’s voice briefly before turning back to his grandfather, and he glanced at his grandmother, who was operating the camera.

Developmental Domain 2: Physical Development & Health
Fine Motor
Children demonstrate the ability to coordinate their small muscles in order to move and control objects.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months):
    • Uses hands in a purposeful manner, e.g., turns the pages of a board book, drops objects into a bucket
    • Coordinates increasingly complex hand movements to manipulate objects, e.g., crumples paper, connects and disconnects toy links, flips light switch on and off
  • Action: Waylon purposefully reached for his grandfather’s face to explore it. He combined several hand movements such as pointing, the pincer grasp, and a flicking motion.

Developmental Domain 2: Physical Development & Health
Children demonstrate the ability to distinguish, process, and respond to sensory stimuli in their environment.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months): Begins to manipulate materials, e.g., pounds at play dough, squeezes finger foods
  • Action: Waylon touched his grandfather’s beard in several different ways. He investigated his grandfather’s face with his hands as well as visually. He turned his head toward his mother when she spoke off camera.

Developmental Domain 3: Language Development, Communication, & Literacy
Social Communication
Children demonstrate the ability to engage with and maintain communication with others.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months):
    • Participates in simple back-and-forth communication, using words and/or gestures
    • Demonstrates understanding of a familiar sound or word, e.g., looks toward a caregiver after hearing name
  • Action: Waylon and his grandfather engaged in a turn-taking interaction in which Waylon touched the beard and his grandfather reacts. Waylon turned briefly toward his mother when she spoke.

Developmental Domain 4: Cognitive Development
Science Concepts & Exploration
Children demonstrate a basic awareness of and use scientific concepts.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months): Actively explores objects and experiences their properties through the different senses, e.g., color, texture, weight, taste
  • Action: Waylon steadily observed his grandfather’s face and beard. He touched the beard in several ways for about a minute, with one finger and with thumb and finger.

Approaches to Learning
Curiosity & Initiative
Children demonstrate interest and eagerness in learning about their world.

  • Indicators for children (birth – 9 months): Demonstrates an interest in new objects by manipulating and turning the object
  • Action: Waylon showed interest in his grandfather’s beard by gazing at it and touching it in a variety of ways.