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Normal Attention Span Expectations By Age

"Pay attention!" "Focus!" "Just two more pages, then you can take a break." Sound familiar? 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 how do you know if your child's inattention is normal or an issue that needs to be addressed? Having age-appropriate expectations about attention spans is an excellent place to start.

What Exactly Is Attention Span?

Simply put, the human attention span is the length of time you can focus on a subject before becoming distracted.1 Naturally, we can all concentrate better for longer periods when the topic interests us. But the ability to maintain your focus, even on your favorite subject, is a skill we learn and develop over time. Children’s attention span is naturally far shorter than adults, as they are more easily distracted and need frequent breaks to rest their minds and exercise their muscles before they can resume their concentration.

Over time, you’ll notice your child’s attention span improves as they mature, but there are also ways to improve your child’s concentration. And best of all, when you understand and have reasonable expectations of your child’s attention span by age, you’ll find much of that stress melting away. Accepting your kid's distractibility as entirely natural rather than defiant is enormously refreshing.

What is the Expected Average Span of Attention by Age?

Childhood development experts generally say that an average attention span by age is just 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.

Expected attention spans by age 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

Of course, every child is different, and yours may fall to one side or the other of the average attention span by age. 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. 

Keep in mind, these average attention spans are only generalizations. And how long your child is truly able to focus will be significantly influenced by factors like the number and type of nearby distractions, hunger, fatigue, and subject matter. It’s also harder for kids to pay attention to something they have no interest in, which is true for all of us.

Consider your child’s ability to concentrate based on the average attention span by age. If your expectations are age appropriate and you remain concerned, it is time to seek answers. Chronic inattention in kids is not always a sign of ADHD, so investigate all the possible causes so you can better address your child’s specific needs.

Tips to Improve Attention Span

It can be challenging for the entire household when your child struggles with inattention. Fortunately, like many other issues involving the brain, your child’s attention span can be worked with and improved upon. For now, a few simple strategies might help your child find greater focus.

Get creative.

Even when we have an average adult attention span, we all find it easier to pay attention when we are interested in the task at hand. But sometimes, what we have to do isn’t that much fun. 

Therefore, learning how to make their work more interesting is a skill that will serve your child well throughout their life. For example, a kid who dislikes math won't focus well on math homework. So, why not make it more fun? For instance, let your little one work out problems in finger paint on an easel first and then copy the work onto the homework sheet later.

Try fidgets.

Fidgets are a broad category of products that kids can manipulate while focusing on other tasks. Using these spinners, cubes, stress balls, and putty can soothe anxiety and may engage parts of the brain essential to paying attention.2 


Dealing with frustration is likely to shred the average adult’s attention span, and kids are no exception. A child who feels overwhelmed or confused by the project they're working on will check out and get distracted quickly. However, by checking in with them, you can help your child navigate this and take ownership of the project. At the beginning of the task, help them identify potential stumbling blocks. Then, make a plan to handle those potential setbacks. If a question seems particularly daunting, for example, start with that one and help your child figure out how to approach it.

Break up tough tasks.

Always remember to reference the attention span by age information above. For example, does it make sense for your 12-year-old to tackle a project that requires 40 minutes of focus? That might be a stretch for them, but if you break it up into two 20-minute sessions with a five-minute break in between, you are then working with your child’s strengths.  

Get Moving!

When your child needs a break to improve their attention span, get them moving. Encourage your child to run around outside, play fetch with the dog, or put on some music and dance.  Exercise is a great way to activate the brain and a child's ability to comprehend and memorize. 

Drink up.

Good hydration is always important, but it also factors into your child’s ability to pay attention. Mild dehydration can impair everyone’s normal attention span.4

Using these tips to improve attention span will help you work with your child. And remember, whether their focus is on target for the average attention span by age or not, it can be improved through brain training.

Getting Help to Improve Attention Span

After the past few years of disruption, at-home schooling, and stress, many kids and teens have increased difficulty focusing and staying on task. The Brain Balance Program helps kids, teens, and young adults build the focus, behavior, and social-emotional skills to keep up and flourish in school. We have helped those with ADHD as well as those who struggle for other reasons. 

A recent Harvard study found that parents whose children participated in the Brain Balance program reported a marked reduction in ADHD symptoms along with substantial improvement in all domains, most notably inattention. The parents' reports were then validated by clinicians who also found significant improvement in ADHD behaviors, inattention, and hyperactivity.

The Brain Balance Program is an effective alternative to stimulant medication for kids with ADHD. We work with your child’s unique brain wiring to help them exercise and strengthen their brain’s connections.

We invite you to fill out the form above, or take our online assessment below, and see how we can help you and your child.

1 https://blog.lingobus.com/chinese-learning-resources/how-long-can-your-child-stay-focused-and-how-can-you-help/
2 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/fidget-toys-for-anxiety
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2909645/
4 https://www.healthline.com/health/short-attention-span#treatments

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