If your toddler is wearing out your carpet racing from stacking blocks one minute to pulling all the books off the shelves the next, it is perfectly normal. If she gets antsy before storytime even begins, that is perfectly normal. Toddlers are busy learning how their bodies work and exploring the world, but they have precious little attention to spend on any one activity. Learn what to expect of your toddler’s attention span, how to keep her interest, and when to worry.
Try not to expect too much from a young child. A toddler between the ages of 15 and 30 months can concentrate on one task for about 10 to 15 minutes, according to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond. Activities like drawing, sorting shapes or colors or listening to a story require more concentration, and will tire a toddler faster, perhaps getting just five to seven minutes of his attention. The time of day can factor in a child’s attention span. Some children are naturally more attentive in the morning or after an afternoon nap.
A toddler’s attention is a fleeting thing. Sitting through story time at the library can be a challenge. The room is filled with distractions. She might want to talk to the other kids, see where that door leads or follow her shadow. If she is listening to the story, she might feel compelled to act like the frog in the book and start hopping around, distracted by her own impulsiveness. You can't control the distractions in the room, but you can minimize distractions from the inside. A toddler who is ill, hungry or thirsty, or otherwise uncomfortable will have an even shorter attention span. Make sure her bodily needs are met before tackling a project or heading out to storytime.
3. Keeping Your Toddler's Interest
The more interested a toddler is in the activity, the longer he will pay attention. New activities are more interesting than the tried and true. A new puzzle or learning toy is more interesting than one you've dragged out a million times before. If you really want your child's attention, do the puzzle or craft with him. Toddlers want to please their primary caregivers, and sharing a new experience with a trusted adult holds his attention longer. Another trick to keeping your child in your lap for the duration of a story or something less interesting, like a doctor's examination, is to bring along a snack or a small toy. The child's urge to run off might be temporarily sidetracked by munching on cereal or examining a new toy.
4. When to Worry
Most likely, your toddler will grow into a longer attention span and eventually be able to sit through a meal. For others, it will be a continuing problem as the child reaches school age, when her inattention starts to affect schoolwork. While your toddler may not need to consult a doctor yet, keep notes as she enters her preschool years. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children showing significant behavioral problems be evaluated for attention deficit disorders as early as age 4. Lack of attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior are all symptoms of ADHD.
- Children’s Hospital of Richmond: Understanding Attention Span in the Early Years
- Zero to Three: Does My Toddler Have a Short Attention Span if She Doesn’t Like to Sit to Hear Stories?
- HealthyChildren.org: Early Warning Signs of ADHD
- HealthyChildren.org: AAP Recommendations and Diagnostic Guidelines for ADHD
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images