“Are You Listening?” Developing Attention in Toddlers

Before we can change a child, we often have to change ourselves first! This means that we’ll adjust the things we do before we expect any changes from a child. It may help you to think about it in these terms…

Find ways to help busy kids slow down so that they are ready to listen and learn.

Find ways to help disengaged or low arousal kids rev up so that they can listen and learn.

Find ways to help kids that are “stuck” move on so that they can listen and learn.

Either way, our goal is the same… we must get a child to a place that’s “just right” for attending and learning. That process is what professionals refer to as helping a child regulate.

Remember that toddlers who aren’t great at attending aren’t intentionally misbehaving. Any difficulty with attention is the result of a variety of factors that combine to impact a child’s reactions. This is why a one-size-fits-all strategy to address attention problems in toddlers will not be 100% effective 100% of the time.


there is one strategy that is worth trying for every toddler because it works more consistently than any other strategy and helps the majority of young children get to that settled “just right place” for learning.


Moving around helps busy kids calm down, flat kids rev up, and stuck kids move on. Anytime we’re not getting the kind of attention we want from a child, consider getting up and moving around for a little while. Try different kinds of movement to see what works best. Ideas here include running, jumping, swinging, rolling around, or being thrown up in the air or bounced up and down. Stomping or marching through the house is very regulating for busy toddlers and those who need an extra “bump” to re-engage. Steady, rhythmical movement is appealing to almost every toddler and works (almost!) like magic.

So… the next time your own child or a little friend is running away from you, rather than calling him back, get up and move WITH him. When he’s more settled, then bring him back to your sit down activity. Try it! More often than not, it works!

From Let’s Talk About Talking…11 Skills All Toddlers Master Before Words Emerge






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