April 4, 2011 in Features

Mr. Dad: Attention span grows through activities

Armin Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: My 4-year-old daughter gets bored incredibly quickly. She’ll do something for five or 10 minutes and then she’s up and on to something else.

I’m having trouble keeping her occupied, since we run out of activities in less than an hour. We had her screened for ADD and other conditions, but the tests all came back fine.

Is there some way to keep her focused for more than just a few minutes?

A: Did you know that a normal attention span for a child is two to five minutes for each year of age? For your daughter, that’s eight-to-20 minutes.

There may be a number of issues at play here.

Some children tend to be low energy, others bounce off the walls. Some are boisterous, others quiet. Some can pay attention for an hour, others have the attention span of a gnat.

All preschoolers are easily distracted, even the ones with long attention spans. The difference is that some children can get back to what they were originally doing, while others can’t.

That said, your daughter needs to develop the ability to concentrate on one task at a time. When she starts school, she’ll be expected to complete assignments and projects in a timely and efficient manner.

Here are some activities that should help.

• Read. Hopefully you’re already doing this. But if not, it’s never too late to start. Begin with five to 10 minutes and gradually increase.

• Matching games. Use pairs of identical cards – buy some or make your own. Start off with eight cards (four pairs) face down on the table. Alternate turning over one card and trying to find the match.

• Get outside. Researchers have found that a 20-minute walk in the park greatly increases children’s attention span. Set up a scavenger hunt, pretend to be earthworms, or get a magnifying glass and identify bugs.

• Do things she likes to do. All of us will spend more time doing things we want to do than things someone else tells us to do.

• Lifestyle check. How’s your daughter’s diet? Is she getting enough physical activity? Sixty minutes a day is about right.

• How about sleep? Between 11 and 12 hours a day total, including naps, is about right.

• Use a timer. Set it for 15 minutes and explain that she (or the two of you) will paint or play or whatever until the buzzer sounds. Only then will you allow her to move on to the next activity.

• Praise her every time she continues an activity for the full time. As her attention span gets longer, gradually increase the number of minutes on the timer.

But make sure you keep your expectations reasonable by remembering the two-to-five-minutes- per-year rule.

Find resources for fathers at www.mrdad.com.

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