Normal Attention Span Expectations By Age

Attention Spans 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 on something. 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.

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:

  • 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, 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.

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