Know Your Toddler’s Limits – and Plan Accordingly
I was watching a young parent in a mall recently. This father had stopped to talk to a friend. However, he had his two-year-old child with him. And it was very clear that his toddler was very quickly bored and wanted to move away from his dad to do some exploring on his own.
This father wanted his child to stand by him and be patient. But as his son kept trying to get away, the father became progressively more upset and angry as his young son did not want to stand quietly near him.
This dad hadn’t planned very well. He should have had some toys or objects to distract his son just in case he stopped to talk to a friend or decided to go to lunch.
Despite what some parents might think, toddlers aren’t evil little creatures constantly looking for chances to frustrate their parents. They’re just trying to grow and learn about the environment and how best to operate within their world. And a lot of times, they are not going such a good job – mostly because they have a short attention span. Neither yelling nor stern commands from parents will change that. They will still have a short attention span.
In living with a toddler, there will be many situations – say when you’re talking to a friend, traveling in the car, or having lunch in a restaurant – which require the use of distractions.
Distraction can be a fine art when thoughtfully used with a toddler. By simply drawing your child’s attention from an unwanted action or behavior to something more interesting, you can solve some immediate behavior problem or prevent a temper tantrum.
It is always best to know the abilities of your toddler – and to bring along some supplies which will suit his abilities.
The 12- to 18-Month-Old Toddler
At this age, distraction is most likely to be used in a very deliberate way. But it’s important to know the attention span of the normal child from 12 to 18 months. Their attention span ranges from a few seconds to about three minutes.
Children of this age can look at pictures in a book for a few seconds and may spend a few concentrated minutes exploring an unfamiliar object or toy. But they have a hard time dealing with confinement, so they will get restless and squirmy fairly quickly, which may mean one possible distraction is to get them moving.
Your best bet for distraction at this age is to bring along a new toy or one your child hasn’t seen for a while. More complex toys – with texture, sounds, and colors – will keep a toddler busy longer. You can also use snacks that are eaten one little piece at a time as a distraction.
The 18- to 24-Month-Old Toddler
At this age, the child’s attention span will range from about one minute to seven minutes. Since this slightly older toddler has a better ability to concentrate, she may sit quietly for several minutes with a book, toy, or video.
The best bet for distraction at this age is to use toys that inspire her to use her imagination. Dressing and undressing a doll, coloring on a sheet of paper, putting different shapes in a form board, or playing with simple puzzles can work well.
The 24- to 30-Month-Old Toddler
The older toddler’s attention span has increased from about five minutes to 15 minutes. Two-year-olds are continually gaining in concentration abilities, but remain highly distractible and move quickly from one activity to another.
The best ways to provide distraction now are to fill up a bag with surprises for your child to discover one at a time. Or let him choose several toys to bring along. But you should have that bag handy with several toys and other distractions. Other good distractions for children of this age include beads to be strung, stickers to be placed in a book, coloring books, and audiotapes with headphones which include a book that goes with the audiotape.
Have distractions available and you’ll never have to try to enforce patience or compliance with a stern voice.