duplo child and mum

Where attention goes, energy flows… how to build attention in your toddler.

There is a saying that has really stuck with me a lot lately and it is ‘where attention goes energy flows’ and I love it.

Also, the more I get to know myself the more I see how frazzled and fractured my attention can be. I blame my four kids for my poor attention span. But it is a current work in progress.

When we have toddlers or young children, how can we build and support their attention? If we think back to ourselves we know the absolute crucial thing is, we have to be interested in it.

So the first thing is… to make sure they like what it is you want them to be attending to!

The best way to be sure of that is to follow their lead. Especially, when they are little.

A very important word of warning here… watch your expectations.

A general rule of thumb for attention development is 3-5 minutes per year.

So, a 1-year-old may stay with you for 3-5 minutes and a 2-year-old 6-10 minutes.

When they are motivated and interested in the task at hand then you will be sure to get the maximum amount of their attention.

There is no point trying to force something onto someone.

How do you like it when someone in your life is asking for your undivided attention on a topic that has absolutely no interest to you? Hard, isn’t it?

So please if your toddler does not like books, don’t insist they read them.

There are many ways to expose your toddler to books and literature (signs in the street for an example) without forcing the issue of sitting for a book. And if you do and they flip straight to the end… go with that, follow their lead.

I love to give young children (and all of us) a taste of success. So set them up for success!

This might look like – say you want them to finish a puzzle (age appropriate is a given here, I never finish 1000-piece puzzles) … but say you have one of those with 10 bits to put in a wooden puzzle frame… take it in turns, you do one, then help them do one… and always let them do the last piece and then celebrate them… over emphasis it… ‘you worked so hard, you finished the puzzle’.  

If you want them to pick up toys … again you help them… sometimes you may even need to do a little hand over hand support, where together you pick up something and pop it into the container… again let them finish. You say things like ‘thank you so much for all your help… my how you are growing up when you are able to help with the cleaning… you put all the toys away… thank you’.

As you are putting the toys in you can build language…. “Car in, bus in, doll in, book in, in, we are putting in (gesture and point), ball in. All finished”

If you want to build attention in your toddler, please:

  • Have realistic expectations;
  • Follow their lead;
  • Slowly build on where they are;
  • If they love outside play – use that;
  • If they love cars – use that;
  • If they love books – use them;
  • Use your routines… and build their attention and their language little bit by little bit.

If you are looking for other strategies that build language (and attention) in everyday moments then have a look at my Toddler Talk Kit.  It is the culmination of evidence-based practices that speech pathologists use, coupled with plenty of parenting experiences.

It will help you build connection and support your toddlers talking.

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