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Normal Attention Span Expectations By Age

"Pay attention!" "Focus!" "Just two more pages, then you can take a break." Virtually all parents have tried pleading with their kids to get them to buckle down and focus. Kids have short attention spans, after all. But when do you know if your child's inattention is an issue that needs to be addressed? Having age-appropriate expectations about attention spans is a good place to start.

Attention Spans by Age

Childhood development experts generally say that a reasonable attention span to expect of a child is two to three minutes per year of their age. That's the period of time for which a typical child can maintain focus on a given task.

Average attention spans work out like this:1

  • 2 years old: four to six minutes
  • 4 years old: eight to 12 minutes
  • 6 years old: 12 to 18 minutes
  • 8 years old: 16 to 24 minutes
  • 10 years old: 20 to 30 minutes
  • 12 years old: 24 to 36 minutes
  • 14 years old: 28 to 42 minutes
  • 16 years old: 32 to 48 minutes

It's worth noting that some developmental researchers put the upper limit at five minutes per year of a child's age, meaning a 2-year-old could be able to focus on a task for up to 10 minutes at a time. Of course, these are only generalizations. And how long a child is truly able to focus is largely determined by factors like how many distractions are nearby, how hungry or tired the child is and how interested they are in the activity. But if your child's attention span is shorter than average, that's worth addressing.

Extending a Child's Attention Span

A few simple strategies might help your child find greater focus.

Bring creativity to tasks your child doesn't enjoy.
A kid who dislikes math won't focus well on math homework, so let him work out problems in finger paint on an easel first and copy the work onto the homework sheet later.

Try fidgets.
Fidgets are a wide category of products that kids can manipulate while focusing on other tasks.

Check-in frequently with your child when they're working on hard tasks.
A kid who feels overwhelmed or confused by the project they're working on will check out and get distracted quickly. At the beginning of the task, help them identify potential stumbling blocks. If question 5 seems especially daunting, for example, start with that one and help your child figure out how to approach it.

Build-in short breaks for tough tasks.
A 12-year-old might be able to give 40 minutes of focus to a project when it's broken into two 20-minute chunks with a five-minute break in between. Additionally, try working in a quick exercise to get the heart beating faster in between those two chunks of work. Exercise is a great way to activate the brain and a child's ability to comprehend and memorize. 

After this year of at-home schooling and stress, many kids and teens are having an increased difficulty focusing and staying on task. The Brain Balance Program is designed to help kids, teens and young adults build the focus, behavior, and social-emotional skills to keep up in school. A Harvard study the Brain Balance Program to be an effective alternative to stimulant medication for kids with ADHD.

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1 https://blog.lingobus.com/chinese-learning-resources/how-long-can-your-child-stay-focused-and-how-can-you-help/

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