Attention span refers to the time an individual can focus on a particular activity. However, when it comes to attention span in children, this can be tricky to measure. Nevertheless, it is essential to address children’s attention spans as it has a great impact on their day-to-day activities, education, and relationships.
There are many reasons why your child may have poor attention spans and trouble paying attention, especially for younger children and during mundane tasks. However, before trialing your child on stimulant medication, it is important to consider if your child has a normal attention span compared to other children their age.
In addition, if your child often struggles to concentrate or has a low attention span, it could be an indicator of some underlying issues like a developmental disorder, a learning disorder or a sensory disorder.
In this article, we will discuss what an attention span is all about, what is a reasonable attention span, factors that determine attention span and how to determine the attention span in children according to their ages.
The article aims to equip your parenting knowledge with attention span related information so that you can address your little one’s needs better so they have longer periods of focused attention.
What Is An Attention Span?
An attention span refers to the amount of time a person takes to lose interest in an activity that they are doing. If they are focusing on one task, this can also be called focused attention or sustained attention.
It is certain that a person will get diverted to another source at some point. However, when it comes to many kids, attention spans are variable and follow a certain pattern. Research focused on child development indicates that a child’s ability to pay attention is related to the child’s age.
In regards to a child’s attention span, when they are young children, parents can be creative and find out interesting activities to keep them engaged and maintain focus. As everything is new and fun to the child, they easily get engaged in those activities, therefore young children may focus easier to sustain. Additionally, parents are often actively engaged with their young children during early childhood and can see the child’s development and concentration levels throughout a task.
However, as they grow up and start going to school, the activities turn challenging, uninteresting and repetitive to children. In such a scenario, if the kid has a shorter attention span than usual and lloses interest in activities, this affects their education along with relationships, emotional health and daily activities. As you can see, there are significant differences in the child’s attention span depending on the given task, environment and period of time allocated to the task.
Quick Side Note: If you’re child’s struggling to read and write at school, have a read of this article!
Determining the attention span for a child is important as it helps you to understand your child’s learning speed along with their interactive skills and engagement in free play. Remember, a child’s faltering attention span can be due to different underlying issues like learning disorder, developmental disorder, mental health conditions and so on.
According to a report, over 136 million children across the globe have attention deficit problems. Thus, measuring and mapping your child’s attention span is great for understanding the problem so that you can help improve your child’s ability to maintain focus.
What’s Considered Normal for Your Child’s Attention Span?
According to child developmental experts, for ascertaining the right attention span of your child, it’s important to consider having expectations according to your child’s age.
Here, the general rule of thumb is that a child should have an attention span for 2–3 minutes per year of the child’s age. That’s the time span for which a typical child can maintain their focus on a particular task or activity.
Therefore, if we go by the child’s age, here’s the attention span that you should expect:
- 2 years: 4–6 minutes
- 4 years: 8–12 minutes
- 6 years: 12–18 minutes
- 8 years: 16–24 minutes
- 10 years: 20–30 minutes
- 12 years: 24–36 minutes
- 14 years: 28–42 minutes
- 16 years: 32–48 minutes
Remember, the above-mentioned attention span is a general rule of thumb. There are different external factors like hunger span, interest, environmental and distractions that also play a major role in determining a child’s attention span.
Though it varies from one child to another and some might outperform the given limits, attention span is a concerning topic when a kid falls short of the average span.
Attention Span of a Toddler
All toddlers have a short attention span. For toddlers with developmental delays or mental health conditions, it is even shorter. Generally, a toddler’s attention span remains between 3 and 6 minutes. Any longer than that, the child requires the support of a parent to stay with that activity.
Toddlers of 8–15 months easily get distracted and can usually attend to a single task for a minute or a little longer.
Many kids within 16–19 months are restless and thus, cannot tolerate visual or verbal interference. However, they can attend to a particular task for 2–3 minutes.
A toddler of 20–24 months gets distracted by sounds but can attend a task continuously for 3–6 minutes.
By 25–36 months, children learn to participate in activities like playing and can stay attentive for 5–8 minutes.
However, as they grow up and reach 3–4 years of age, they learn how to shift their attention between a parent talking to them and the activity they are doing. Their attention span is generally in the range of 8–10 minutes.
Attention Span of a 4–5 Year-Old
Your 4-year old kid might have started spending more time with games and puzzles than before, but don’t raise your expectations too high. The average attention span in these preschool years of 4-year old child is still 5–10 minutes.
Thus, while planning projects for children in these preschool years, keep the child’s attention span in mind. Even if your little one can stick to an activity for half an hour, on average, you must expect less.
A 5-year old child should be able to concentrate on an activity for 10–15 minutes, depending upon the nature of the activity and other variables like their interest, the time of the day, mood and so on.
As at this phase, you are preparing your child for school, consider providing them with attention training to improve their intelligence and prepare them for formal learning. Remember that being able to pay attention to what is being taught plays the most important role in a child’s academic success.
Attention Span of a 6–7 Year-Old
As already mentioned, attention span in children increases with age. So, a 6–7-year-old can attend to a task for 12–20 minutes on average. Children in this age group can even sustain attention to one task of their interest for as long as 30 minutes.
Children of this age must be motivated and provided with interesting and engaging activities or lessons for retaining attention. Here, teachers or parents too can help them to sustain attention by providing cues to stay on the task before a child loses interest.
Attention Span of an 8–10 Year-Old
Although physical growth at this stage is slower compared to growth as a younger child, your child goes through substantial mental development at this age. An 8–10-year old kid has already conquered the basics of reading and math.
At this age, help them to understand what they learn and motivate them to apply the same to real-life situations.
At this age, you will see a big difference in your little one’s attention span. Unlike their earlier years, they no longer struggle to sit and concentrate on an activity for long. The average attention span of a child of this age group is 20–30 minutes. By now, children can handle complex games that involve strategies.
Attention Span of a Teenager
According to studies, it’s an urban myth that goldfish have a better attention span than a teenager. The truth is, teens prefer taking part in different activities and spend a lot of time switching tasks.
Considering the above-mentioned chart, on average, a 12–14-year-old teen can attend to a task for 24–42 minutes. However, if provided with an activity of their interest like an interesting movie or an engaging book, a teen can stay engaged for 2 hours at a stretch.
As per studies, teens struggle to concentrate on non-preferred tasks. Teenagers tend to get bored easily and struggle to stay focused on things they may not like to do.
Here, parents and teachers can help these adolescents improve their attention span by eliminating distractions like televisions and mobile phones. Motivate them with rewards like short breaks and holidays.
Allow them to take short breaks when they complete a task on time. Use a timer to make your teen remember when to get up, rest and move. Remember, it is always easier to focus after short breaks.
By understanding how long a child’s focus should last before they start losing attention is really important in knowing if your child has short attention spans if it is average or higher than normal. Just by spending a few minutes reading this article, you have learned what should be expected for your child, whether they are younger or older children.
If your child does get easily distracted or has shorter attention spans then it might be worth seeking the assistance of an occupational therapist to help increase attention span and work on these attention problems.
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