Understanding the average attention span by age for children can help you determine what’s reasonable to expect from your child.
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Completing a puzzle, organizing a messy room, and reading multiple chapters of a book – all of these activities require our attention.
But when it comes to children, what’s the average attention span by age we can expect? Is it reasonable to assume a four-year-old can spend half an hour sitting still focused on a performance? Or that a teenager can do nothing but math homework for more than an hour?
Understanding our children’s average attention spans can help us know what’s reasonable to expect from our kids and when it may be time to seek help.
What’s an attention span?
An attention span refers to the length of time a person can concentrate on a given task or activity without becoming distracted or losing focus. It’s the amount of time during which someone can maintain their attention on a single task or stimulus.
Attention spans vary from person to person and can be influenced by factors such as age, cognitive abilities, and the type of task being performed. For example, a young child may have a shorter attention span than an adult, and a complex task may require more sustained attention than a simple one.
What’s the average attention span by age for children?
Most childhood development experts believe the average attention span by age for children can be calculated by multiplying 2-3 minutes by the year of their age.
|Age of Child||Average Attention Span|
|2 years old||4-6 minutes|
|3 years old||6-8 minutes|
|4 years old||8-12 minutes|
|5-6 years old||12-18 minutes|
|7-8 years old||16-24 minutes|
|9-10 years old||20-30 minutes|
|11-12 years old||25-35 minutes|
|13-15 years old||30-40 minutes|
|16+ years old||32-50+ minutes|
These are just estimates, however, and some experts believe 5 minutes multiplied by the child’s age is the upper limit of attention span. Of course, as mentioned previously, an attention span can also be impacted by the complexity of the activity, how hungry or sleepy a child is, how many distractions are near them, how interested the child is in the task, or other external factors.
How to improve your child’s attention span
While we can’t expect children to far exceed the average attention span expected for their age, we can help improve what attention span they are capable of. The following are a few ways to accomplish this.
This is obvious advice, but one way to improve a child’s attention span is to remove any distractions in their surroundings. Maria Montessori understood the benefit of this when she designed her classrooms to be minimalist, creating as few distractions as possible to help children focus on one task at a time.
Make sure your child isn’t hungry or tired
All of us can attest that we function better and can focus more on a good night’s sleep and when we’ve been eating healthy, nutritious foods. If you’re unsure how much sleep your child should be getting, refer to this chart showing suggested bedtimes by age.
Follow routines whenever possible
Having a predictable schedule where children know what to expect throughout the day can help them feel greater security and therefore focus on the task at hand. Unpredictability can lead to mild anxiousness in kids, reducing their attention span and causing them to be less focused on what they need to do. Whenever possible, create a routine for your child whether it’s throughout the day for young children or in the morning and evening for school-age children.
Make sure your child gets enough exercise
Research shows that people of all ages can concentrate more when they partake in regular exercise. And that’s particularly true with children, especially ones who have trouble sitting still. Note too that the positive effects of exercise on kids’ concentration last for roughly one hour, so it’s beneficial that kids get regular opportunities to move throughout the day.
Keep an eye on screen time
While experts are still researching the ultimate effects screen time has on children, a number of studies have shown that excess screen time does have an impact on average attention spans. One study says that allowing a child too much screen time “has been found to negatively impact attention span, language, and cognitive development”. Limiting screen time as much as possible can help improve your child’s attention span.
See related: How to Reduce Screen Time
Make use of fidget toys
Some experts contend that giving children fidget toys like these handheld spinners, can help them stay focused when doing a task that takes a long time or they need to stay attentive. But fidget toys may not be right for every child. While some people need a certain level of stimulation to focus, others don’t or instead seek out quiet with little distraction.
Find non-screen activities your child is passionate about
Not surprisingly, children are more likely to concentrate on something they’re very interested in. Such as the child who curls up with a book for hours or spends most of an afternoon building a LEGO tower. The more opportunities kids have to demonstrate focus in activities they enjoy, the more they can begin to carry this skill over into less desirable activities.
Make sure your child isn’t overwhelmed
Sometimes a child’s attention span is impacted by the activity they’re focused on. If an activity is too complex or complicated for your child, they’ll have a difficult time focusing on it.
In this case, work with your child to divide the project into more manageable chunks if it’s the size of the activity that’s overwhelming. For example, if your child is cleaning an excessively messy room, discuss how you’ll first clean up the books, then focus on toys on the floor.
If the activity is mentally too complex for your child then point them toward an easier project. Of course, if it’s homework they need to complete, work with your child, as a tutor would, to help them identify where they’re stuck and what they need to better understand to make the work less complex.
What if my child seems to have a short attention span
Sometimes, but not always, a short attention span could be a sign of ADHD but this alone is not conclusive. Children with ADHD often struggle to focus and complete other executive functioning tasks and may be frustrated by tasks that require too much concentration. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to focus you may want to undergo an ADHD evaluation.
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About Kerry Flatley
Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.