Are you trying to work with a late talker who has a super short attention span? You’re probably thinking… how is he ever going to learn to talk if he won’t listen and pay attention?
This can be super frustrating for us as therapists and as parents because we are trying everything we can to help a child learn to communicate, yet we’re met with lots of resistance or indifference by a child who doesn’t seem to want to stay with us and play together, or to listen as we try to teach them to say new words.
Scientific studies show that attention is related to a child’s visual perception and world orientation. In general orientation refers to the toddler’s engagement with various aspects of their external environment. The main components of this orientation state include the ability to be selective, to engage and to control events. Attentional processes occur at a number of levels, such as external behaviors (e.g. looking), psychological engagement, and neural and physiological responses. In other words, your baby’s attention span can develop in many different ways and it is up to you as a parent to train it and determine your toddler to react accordingly to various external and internal stimuli.
On the other hand, if you have unrealistic expectations of your toddler’s attention span, it can often lead to temper tantrums and other upsetting behavior. At various age settings, attention can be influenced by other important factors, such as the type of activity you are trying to involve your toddler into, if they are hungry, tired or sick and other internal factors.
The age of your child and attention span
If you will conduct a search online or read specialist literature, you will find that there are slight variations in the average attention span by age group. However, keep in mind that developmental age is very important in determining the degree of attention they can dedicate in certain activities.
The below chart is based upon an average of what most child development experts say:
8 – 15 months- At this age, attention span is no longer than a minute for a single action type of activity, for instance playing with a toy. In other words, any new activity or event will distract your child.
16 – 19 months- Restlessness is one of the main characteristics of this age group. However, any structured, more complex activity will keep your infant focused for more than 2-3 minutes. Your child might be restless, but is able to sustain attention to one structured activity for 2-3 minutes. Your child might not be able to tolerate verbal or visual interference.
20 – 24 months- This is the age where you infant will easily be distracted by outside sounds and activities. An activity will keep them focused for up to 6 minutes.
25 – 36 months- Your child can generally pay attention to a toy or other activity for 5-8 minutes. During this time, they can also pay attention to an adult speaking to them.
3 – 4 years- Attention span increases to up to 10 minutes on a singular type of activity.
How to increase attention span in your toddler
As a parent, your first task is to pay attention and learn what your infant is trying to tell you at an unconscious level. Watch and try to adapt your strategies to what you notice they like and enjoy doing. Whatever the activity, try to spend 15 minutes every day with your child without interruptions. You will probably notice that your child is better able to continue playing if he knows that you won’t get up and leave just because he’s not asking for interaction.
Another important step is to be realistic and don’t push development further than what they can accomplish in their age group. To help lengthen the time your child can stay engaged in an activity, begin where he is now and take small steps toward a long-term goal. If your child can stay on task for two minutes now, work on increasing that time to three or four minutes before you expect him to be able to focus for five!