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Q&A:
What's an appropriate attention span for a 16-month-old?

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Question


Is there any standard guideline for attention span in children? What would be the appropriate attention span for a 16-month-old child?

Answer


Attention span refers to the amount of time a child can stick to an activity. Unfortunately, small children tend to have a long attention span for what we would rather they not pursue and a shorter one for the things we would like them to do. A toddler may, for example, try to get into a locked cabinet over and over but not want to sit on our lap to read a book when we have the time for it. Because this is so variable and because toddlers are often in constant motion, we rarely if ever diagnose attention problems until age 4 or 5. What determines attention span in a toddler is a combination of personality or temperament traits that seem to be present from birth: persistence and distractibility. Persistence is the tendency for a child to stick to something despite distractions, and distractibility is sensitivity to what is going on around him that keeps a child from focusing continually on a task. These two traits can be present in varying degrees in each child. In other words, a highly persistent child can return to the task at hand even when distracted for a short period, while a child with poor persistence will readily give up a task with or without minor distractions.When evaluating attention span in a child as young as 16 months, we are really talking about how these two traits combine. Some babies can watch their own toes for long periods, while others go from toy to toy and back again. In addition, this can vary somewhat from day to day and according to time of day, especially if the child is tired and cranky. On the other hand, motivation can prolong attention span. Watching children teach themselves to walk, we are often astonished at how long they persevere in the face of continual frustration.By the time children reach kindergarten, they are expected to be able to sit still and attend to a task set for them by an adult for about 15 to 20 minutes maximum. Until that time, don't expect a toddler to last more than a few minutes unless she has some powerful motivation compelling her to keep at it.  
 
 
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