How to engage: Children's summonses to adults in families and kindergartens

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, L10

Topic of the dissertation

How to engage: Children's summonses to adults in families and kindergartens

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts Tiina Eilittä

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, The Research Unit for Languages and Literature

Subject of study



Professor Asta Cekaite, Linköping University


Professor Pentti Haddington, University of Oulu

Visit thesis event

Add event to calendar

Children seek adults' attention in various ways in the midst of busy everyday life

This doctoral dissertation studies a phenomenon that is familiar to many: how children seek adults’ attention with summonses in the midst of busy everyday life. The study shows that children are skilled interactants who adapt their summoning practices to the situation at hand to secure the adult’s attention. The study also shows how adults’ responses, or lack thereof, socialise children into the norms of social interaction. Researching adult-child interactions is important as children are raised in interaction with adults.

The dissertation describes various linguistic and embodied summoning practices used by children to seek adults’ attention. These include turns such as ”mum”, ”dad” or ”guess what.” Children may also move closer to adults or use different gestures and objects to attract the attention of adults. The study shows how children’s summoning practices reflect their understanding of the interactional norms (e.g., a summons ”mum” makes a go-ahead such as ”yeah” expected). This can be seen, for example, when an adult does not respond to a child’s summons. At these moments, children adapt their ways of summoning based on the prevailing situation to increase their chances of getting the adults’ attention.

The study also illustrates how adults respond to children’s summonses in the middle of busy everyday life. The analyses show that adults’ responses to children’s summonses socialise children on how to act in different situations. With their responses, adults show children which activities are prioritised in busy situations, and when it is appropriate to start a conversation with others.

The doctoral dissertation was carried out at the University of Oulu in the department of English as part of the iTask-project (funded by the Research Council of Finland and the Eudaimonia Institute). The research materials comprised video recordings collected in families and kindergartens. The languages studied were Finnish and English. The research method was Conversation Analysis.

The findings of the dissertation help to increase the awareness of interaction among parents and those who work with children. The study shows how children summon adults in the midst of busy everyday life and illustrates which factors affect children’s summoning practices. With increased interactional awareness, adults may pay more attention how they interact with children, and how their actions socialise children in different ways.
Last updated: 27.2.2024