Toddler Attention Span…What’s Normal?


All toddlers have notoriously short attention spans.

For those of us who work with toddlers with developmental delays, it feels even shorter! Shorter as in, one to two milliseconds, before a little friend decides he needs to move on to something new.

It leaves us wondering… what’s normal for a toddler’s attention span?

Several years ago, I found a study (Gaertner 2008) that said the normal range for a toddler’s attention span is 3 to 6 minutes. Any longer than that and a child requires full adult support to stay with a task.

Last night as I was surfing through social media sites, I found an article from day2dayparenting,com with more specific details by age range, but without a specific reference. It lines up with the Gaertner study, so I’ll share it here:

Average Attention Span By Age Group:

8 – 15 months

Any new activity or event will distract your child, but they can usually attend for one minute or a little longer to a single toy or activity.

16 – 19 months

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

Your child is still easily distracted by sounds, but can stay attentive to an activity either with or without an adult for 3-6 minutes.

25 – 36 months

Your child can generally pay attention to a toy or other activity for 5-8 minutes. In addition, he/she can shift attention from an adult speaking to him/her and then back to what he/she was doing if he/she is prompted to focus her attention.

3 – 4 years

Your child can usually attend to an activity for 8-10 minutes, and then alternate his/her total attention between the adult talking to him/her and the activity he/she is doing independently.

What’s Your Experience?

These numbers certainly line up with my experience as a pediatric SLP. Actually, I think they line up strikingly well when we look at a child’s developmental age, rather than his chronological age.

Don’t your little friends who aren’t yet talking have an agonizingly hard time staying with a toy for longer than a minute or two? That lines up with the numbers for an 8 to 15-month-old listed above.

What about your new(er) talkers? They can hang with you for a little longer, but once you challenge their systems by introducing more to look at and listen to – meaning you step in to offer longer explanations or ask questions – and boom… they’re gone! That lines up with the description above for 16 to 19-month-olds.

How about the toddlers we can get to phrases – those kids at about the 24-month language level? They do manage to play better with toys and stick with it a little longer. Again, the numbers listed above line up with our experience.

To me this tells us that looking at a toddler’s language level may provide a more realistic expectation for what a child’s attention to us and to toys will be.

Somebody should do a study about that!



This information is included in my new book Let’s Talk About Talking due out in October! Look for pre-sale information soon!


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