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4 Ways to Increase Your Child's Attention Span
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  • My son was born during the holiday season, so when he was in the baby / toddler stage, you could imagine the amount of toys he would receive all within a span of two weeks from Christmas (from godparents), New Year (from balikbayan relatives), and his birthday (from cousins and our friends). It was overwhelming for a little child. 

    He himself could not decide which one to play with first, so we agreed on a rule: on the day of his party (or Christmas or New Year) after he had opened all the gifts, he could choose up to 2 toys to unbox and play with. The rest will be kept in the meantime, but every month he could open 1 or 2 new ones. I’d like to think that it worked not only in getting him to appreciate each toy more, but also in improving his focus and concentration

    An average two-and-a-half-year-old child can only focus on a toy for roughly four minutes, says Kathleen Kannass, Ph.D., an associate professor of developmental psychology at Loyola University Chicago. A four-year-old might be more attentive for about 1 or 2 minutes longer, but all in all what this means is that children as young as this are still learning to pay attention. And it’s something you, the parent, would want to develop — better concentration would mean being able to stick to tasks longer (such as when building a block tower) and less impatience when you’re stuck in traffic or waiting for your food at a restaurant.

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    How you can help improve your toddler’s concentration

    Limit distractions

    “Many toddlers tend to hear things a little louder than adults do. Also, textures are a little scratchier and smells are a little stronger,” Jennifer Weaver, a licensed clinical social worker in Washington D.C., told Parents. That said, it may be a lot more difficult for kids to tune out background noise like a dog barking, or music playing. So do him a favor and eliminate these one by one to help him concentrate on the task at hand for now. Toddlers are able to focus better when they are in a quiet setting.

    Sitting still is not equal to paying attention

    For most parents, the concept of paying attention is that of a child who stays put in a chair, hanging on to every word you’re saying. This is ideal, but also, unrealistic — it’s hard to keep a child still especially when his mind is stimulated. “Some young kids, especially very active ones, are most attentive when they’re moving around the room,” says Claire Lerner, coauthor of Bring Up Baby: Three Steps to Making Good Decisions in Your Child’s First Years.

    If you notice that your child keeps walking around or is fidgety when you’re, say, trying to read him a book, see how much he is comprehending by asking him questions about the story. If he seems to be really listening (but can’t keep from moving), work around it and make your activity more interactive by asking him to mimic the actions mentioned in the story you’re telling (i.e., jumping like a frog, or dancing like a princess).

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    Keep him engaged

    Kids lose interest quite quickly. The toy they were “begging” you to buy yesterday may just be lost in a pile under his bed a week from now. How do you revive his interest? By playing with him. Show him other ways he can play with the toy. When my son got bored with a bucket of plastic toy soldiers and was ready to toss them in his toy chest, his dad taught him to build a fort using boxes and pillows for his soldiers to “take refuge in.” His eyes lit up in that “A-ha” moment, and he has played with them that way ever since. Playing with your child also teaches him to be more creative and imaginative.

    Let him pursue his interests

    Kids will be inclined to like certain toys and games as they grow up. I know a child who’s been obsessed with the solar system since he was a tot. Some are simply fascinated with dinosaurs, while others like trains or puzzles. Whatever it is, support that interest by encouraging him to learn more about it: get him picture books about planets, take him to a natural history museum to see remnants of a dinosaur, ride a train with him, or go to a puzzle exhibit. “Deepening a child’s knowledge helps him see familiar toys with fresh eyes and often leads to a greater ability to concentrate,” says Weaver.

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