A toddler’s attention is often fleeting, jumping from the task at hand to the most recently occurring stimuli. Because toddlers are so curious about their world, they have a limited ability to tune out stimuli around them, which means they are easily distracted. (Look! A squirrel!)
A steady attention span is a foundation for learning, building life skills, and preparing your toddler for group learning environments.
Often times, young ones may need help from an adult to stay focused and complete a task. Eventually, as your child’s attention span increases, they will be able to independently play without your constant attention.
It is important to remember that the ability to increase attention span is like a muscle: it must be stretched and exercised to be strengthened.
You can help increase the attention span of your toddler by providing them with the right opportunities. It is most effective to work one-on-one with your toddler—as you are able to facilitate the “stretching” and “strengthening.”
Just like we can benefit from a personal trainer or fitness coach to push us a little further, we can be that motivator for our toddlers.
Activities should be motivating and have the capacity to be expanded upon. Remember to be silly and creative!
Activities to increase attention span
1. Kitchen tasks
Toddlers are often motivated by participating in a “grown-up” task, and there is the intrinsic motivation of a snack at the end!
Try making peanut butter toast (waiting for the toast to pop up) or creating a snack mix with a variety of ingredients.
2. Extend story time
You can also increase their attention span by slowly extending the amount of time you read together.
When reading a favorite book with your toddler, you can add to the story by interjecting your own thoughts and questions. You can ask your child to point out certain objects on the pages and create additional storylines after the story ends.
3. Keep them seated
Or when you are outside, use a chair that is just their size to help them feel comfortable and lengthen the amount of time they can stay focused.
Observe your toddler’s play and notice what they show the most interest in
Do they play with the box of colorful scarves long enough for you to put on your makeup?
If so, this would be a wonderful activity to use for “exercise.” Play with your child and the scarves, first following their lead by joining in and imitating their actions.
If you sense your child is starting to lose interest (and ideally, just before this happens), model a new way to play with the scarves, such as stuffing them in a box or wrapping up a baby doll.
Choose an activity that is age-appropriate
Your child is most likely to engage in a task that is a “just right challenge.” This means they are able to be successful in the task on their own or only with slight assistance.
This will prevent frustration or discouragement. While these are important emotions to experience and work through, they can be hinder progress when working to lengthen your toddler’s attention span.
Commit to being fully present with your toddler
As an adult with a thousand things on the “to-do” lists, being fully present takes some planning.
Try to stay in tune with your toddler’s activity—when parents become distracted, that gives a quick cue to toddlers to shift their attention as well.
The “stretching” of the attention span muscle hinges on the ability to increase time on an activity. Once your child communicates they are done, encourage them to complete just one more repetition.
Such as, “Let’s color for one more minute, then we’ll clean up.” As parents gently urge their children to stay involved in a task, they will feel encouraged to keep going.
One-on-one time engaging in activities with your toddler can help stretch and strengthen their attention spans.
Celebrate every small victory, such as their willingness to match one more shape before calling it quits. With some practice, you will soon find your toddler attending to a wider range of activities for longer stretches of time!
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Feature image photo credit: @bianca.ashby