Attention Problems in Children


Understanding Attention Spans of Young Children

understanding-attention-spans-1 Attention problems in children, and their potential impact on learning, have been in the media spotlight for several years. As a result, many parents want to be alert to any early signs of attention span issues in their children. Knowing what typical attention behavior is at different ages is a good place to start.
As a parent, you’re well aware that infants and young children are naturally curious and eager to explore the world around them. This is what drives their learning. One important aspect of learning is a child’s ability to focus her attention on a particular object or activity. Typically, a child’s attention span—increases as the child gets older. Attention span varies based on gender. It also varies based on the type of activity; your child will typically maintain a longer attention span when participating in an activity that’s well matched to her developmental level, interests, and strengths.

understanding-attention-spans-2In addition to understanding typical development, figuring out what are appropriate attention abilities for your child depends upon understanding her unique developmental profile and learning style. Here are some important questions you can ask to determine appropriate expectations for your child:

•What attention behavior is appropriate for my child’s age?
•What are her interests and strengths?
•Does her attention increase for activities related to her interests or strengths?
•How does my child take in and process information?
•What is his temperament and how does it influence his learning?

What is typical attention development?
Generally, you can expect your child’s age to match the number of minutes she will stay engaged with the same object or activity; for example, a two-year-old will attend for two minutes. Your child will stay engaged longer when you join her in play and favorite activities.



How to Support Your Child

Under 12 months

Infants can stay engaged with a caregiver for 2-3 minutes. They shift frequently between objects in play. Talk to your baby in a warm and excited tone. Make funny faces and encourage your child to take turns making sounds with you.

18 months – 2 years

30-60 seconds on a single activity; 1-2 minutes engaged with a familiar adult Consider activities that match your child’s developmental level and interest. Look at books together. Repetition is good!

2 years

1-2 minutes on a single activity; 5-10 minutes engaged with a familiar caregiver or with children present Talk to your child about what she is doing. Encourage problem-solving and promote independent thinking.

3 years

3-8 minutes on a single activity; up to 10-15 minutes independently on a new activity or engaged with a familiar adult or with children present Encourage your child’s natural interests. Talk to her about what she likes and is doing. Expand the conversation and activity with open-ended questions. Let your child be the leader in her learning.

4 years

7-15 minutes on a single activity, depending on the child’s level of interest;15-20 minutes engaged with a familiar caregiver or other children Your child is learning to tune out distractions. Interest and variety are key to holding a child’s attention. Keep activities new and appealing. Try fun and creative art projects, but remember to keep the focus on the process and experience you are creating for your child rather than the end product.

5 years

10-15 minutes on a single activity; 20-25 minutes in play with other children

Adapted from:

Attention Development » Resources/Links