Updated: Sep 27
Attention is the capacity to actively focus on specific information in the environment while filtering other details. Attention is a primary cognitive skill in alignment with other neurological functions. According to Sohlberg and Mateer’s (1987) hierarchic model, there are five levels of attention with different kinds of activities of increasing difficulty and complexity (from the simplest to the most demanding); following are the five-level of attention:
Level 1: Focused attention: The ability to respond discretely to one specific sensory stimulus- visual (pictures or a flash of light ) or auditory (loud noise) or tactile stimuli. This is the basic level where a child should be able to respond to external stimuli in an environment to take quick action.
Level 2: Sustained (a.k.a Concentration) attention: The ability to focus & maintain a consistent behavioural response to a task for a continuous stretch of time until the task is completed or a certain period of time has elapsed.
Level 3: Selective attention: The ability to focus & maintain a behavioural or cognitive set on one specific task in the midst of multiple distractions & stimuli. For instance, a child being able to focus on reading a book in spite of the distractions from the noise heard from children playing on the terrace.
Level 4: Alternating attention: The ability of mental flexibility to shift their focus of attention from one task to another & to move between tasks that are having different cognitive requirements or demands. It's not about focusing on more than one thing at the same time, but about stopping attending to one thing and then switching to the next task.
Level 5: Divided (a.k.a. Limited) attention: The ability to focus & respond simultaneously to multiple tasks or while maintaining speed and accuracy. An interesting reality is that most adults don’t achieve this level completely because multitasking never works well because our attention is, in reality, limited.
*A section of scholars also consider these levels of attention as different types of attention.
Five Signs of impairments in attention among children
Easily getting distracted.
Looking “blank” or reports feeling spacey.
Confused when a lot is going on in the environment.
Missing details upon completing tasks or has difficulty in completing a task.
17 Actions that parents shall consider
For the most part, our ability to focus our attention on one thing while blocking out competing distractors seems automatic. Yet the ability of people to selectively focus their attention on a specific subject while dismissing others is very complex. Attention is limited in terms of both capacity and duration, so it is important to have ways to effectively manage the attentional resources we have available in order to make sense of the world. Here are 15 actions that parents shall consider in improving the attention span of their child:
Minimize distractions in the environment (for example, turn off radios, close doors to other rooms, limit people in the immediate area, etc.).
Establish eye contact with the child before proceeding with instructions.
Cue the child that what you are saying is important and they need to listen.
Develop a signal that can be used to bring the child back to the task at hand (for example, a light touch on the hand).
Give simple instructions in a simplified manner (for example, short, clear directives).
Have the child repeat back the information you gave them to ensure comprehension.
Teach the child to request to repeat any information that is not understood.
Check-in with the child to see if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, esp. when the task is complicated & tough.
Break complicated tasks into smaller & carefully arranged tasks.
Set a realistic duration of time for your child to focus on a particular activity depending on the complexity of the work and the age of your child.
Encourage work breaks and gradually increase work periods.
Model or demonstrate what you want to be done being a role model.
Try to establish and maintain a routine.
Don’t force the concept of ‘Focus’ & ‘Attention instead always represent ‘ the concepts as a simple idea that can be easily achieved; by doing so, the child will not develop a sense of aversion.
Always remember to appreciate & motivate whenever they show subtle signs of improvement in their attention.
Don’t expect your child to have multitasking capacity; it is a skill that is good to have but not really necessary to perform well.
Practice mindfulness; mindfulness is to pay attention to the present moment and it is sometimes considered as a form of attention. Mindfulness training may help improve attention.
Here is the bonus:
Learn how to calculate the normal attention span of children?
Though many oppose, a handy formula that’s quite famous among child experts is the 2-3 minutes formula; this formula is more reliable when used for children between the age of 4-18 years. The formula is
Age of the child X 2 to 3 minute
for instance, if the child is 4 years old, then 4 X 2 to 3= 8 to 12 minutes.
If your child has a hard time paying attention for any length of time or if they can’t stay in their seat constantly and shows jittery behaviour when you’re trying to give them instruction, it is possible that they could have a learning disability (Dyslexia) of some degree or possibly ADHD. There are multiple biological reasons why some children have problems with their attention. If you feel your child may have an issue, don’t hesitate to visit a Speech - Language Pathologist for guidance.