Why it’s difficult to get your toddler to concentrate

Encouraging your child to focus his attention can be a challenge. Our child psychologist shares effective techniques to develop concentration skills

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The typical toddler is on the go the whole time, rarely settling at the same activity for more than a few minutes. With limited concentration, he moves quickly from one toy or game and on to the next. And with so much energy, he can only focus for a limited time before needing to play with something else. That’s normal – concentration takes time to develop.

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Concentration science

Your tot’s attention span improves significantly in three distinct ways as he develops:

Passive to active:

As a baby he looked at something only when it came into his line of vision. Now, concentration is more active and controlled – he looks around and chooses what to look at more closely.

Unsystematic to systematic searching:

Unlike a baby, who looks at a toy in a haphazard way – perhaps gazing at one end, then chewing the opposite end, your toddler uses concentration to investigate the object systematically and methodically.

Broad to selective:

A baby has difficulty filtering out different sources of information. Your toddler, however, concentrates more selectively – for instance, he continues to watch TV even though you keep asking him to tidy his toys away!

Which toys will help?

When buying a product, ask yourself:

  • Does it have novelty value?

He’s more likely to focus on a new toy that he hasn’t seen or played with previously.

  • Is it colourful?

Toddlers prefer colours to black and white, because they are sensitive to specific wavelengths, especially bright colours.

  • Does the toy stimulate his curiosity?

Your toddler’s naturally inquisitive and likes to explore, so a toy that’s challenging is more likely to grab his attention.

  • Is there movement?

He’s more interested in a toy that has parts that turn and make a noise when they’re touched, than one which has no movement.

Age & stage changes

At 18 months, if your tot sees you drop a toy on the floor, he’ll concentrate on it, then bend down and pick it up without losing his balance. By 2 years old, his concentration has increased to the point where he can build a tower of six or seven wooden blocks before it topples. And at 3, he’ll happily sit and complete a jigsaw.

Try this… 

Encourage your child to look at you when you talk to him. Eye contact reduces distractions, focuses his attention and leads to better understanding.

Ways to help your child concentrate:

  • Let him practise searching. When shopping, ask your toddler to find an item.
  • Encourage listening. Read a book to your toddler then ask him questions about the characters and storyline.
  • Create a quiet area. Put in a child-sized table and chair for your toddler to sit at when he wants to play in peace.
  • Stay on top of mess. His concentration will benefit from having an organised, uncluttered environment.
  • Respond to his progress. Begin with short activities and, as his focus improves, gradually make tasks longer.
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Did you know…

Boys and girls have similar levels of attention as toddlers, but boys tend to have more problems with concentration by school age.

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