The active and easily distracted child

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Although it is normal for a toddler to move around and not be focused on a game for very long, some children are more active than others and have a very short attention span.

Why are some children more active and distracted than others?

All children are different. Some can only sit quietly for a minute or two, while others can look intently at a book. Some 3 and 4 year olds run, jump and climb at the park while others play quietly with a bucket and shovel.

If your toddler seems more active than others, it may be due to his or her temperament. Every child has a different constitution and character traits, and that’s what makes each one unique.

On the other hand, if you’re an active family that plays sports, it’s very likely that your child enjoys activities that “move”. On the other hand, if you are a quiet person who likes to read and do puzzles, you will encourage a different level of attention in your child.

Some parents also have a higher tolerance level for their child’s movement, while other parents are quicker to get them to be quiet.

However, most children, before the age of 4 or 5, have difficulty staying in place for long periods of time. It’s a good idea to focus on short activities or games that require a relatively short attention span.

What if your child is very active and often inattentive?

Here are some tips for living with a very active and often inattentive toddler:

Play a game with your child for a short time each day that he or she particularly enjoys. Then, gradually increase the amount of play time. This will help strengthen both his attention span and the bond between you.

Limit unnecessary distractions and noise if you want to increase your child’s attention span. For example, do a puzzle with your toddler in a quiet area or ask him to turn off the TV before asking him to do a task.

Give your child one instruction at a time, speaking slowly and clearly. This will help them understand what you want them to do. Then check to make sure he understands what you’ve told him.

Allow your toddler to move around. Go outside together and let him run and jump. Or set up a play area in the living room with cushions where he can do it safely. This will make your child more cooperative when you ask him to be quieter, since his energy will have been channeled into physical activities beforehand.

Let your child know about upcoming changes during the day by saying, for example, “You have 5 minutes left to play in the park, then it’s dinner!” This will help your child make transitions between different activities during the day and enjoy playtime.

Recognize your child’s perseverance (e.g., “Congratulations on finishing your block game!”) so that they see their progress and feel valued.

Identify the times of day that are easier for your child and those that are more challenging. Have your child complete the most difficult tasks and those that require the most concentration during times when his mood is positive. Also consider your own energy level at different times of the day. The end of the day is often more challenging for both parents and children.

Make sure your toddler understands the daily routines. Changes in routine can be a source of anxiety for children who have difficulty focusing and increasing their activity level.

Limit screen time, as it tends to increase activity levels for these children. It also doesn’t encourage them to do activities that will help them succeed in school later on (e.g., pretend play or reading).

Make sure your expectations of him are consistent. If he receives confusing or conflicting messages, he will have difficulty meeting your expectations.

Have him play with play dough. Having fun making and unmaking can be a calming activity for a child with a higher level of agitation.

Offer soothing activities for your toddler in the evening, such as playing in a warm bath or reading a story. This can really help her get ready for bed.

Compliment your toddler at least once a day, as she is likely to hear a lot of negative comments about herself, which can lead to low self-esteem.

Make sure your toddler is getting enough sleep. If he’s very tired, he may have a harder time regaining his composure.

Things to remember

It’s normal for toddlers to move around and have a short attention span.

You can help your child channel his or her energy by providing times when movement is allowed.

By gradually extending the duration of activities that your child enjoys, you can help your child develop a better ability to concentrate.

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