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Toddler Attention Span…What’s Normal?

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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!

 

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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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Laura

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