At what age do we acquire the ability to maintain attention?

Many parents worry about their children’s ability to care for them at a young age. At the very least, they see that they don’t constantly listen to the father when he tells them a story, plays a toy or does their homework, many parents put themselves in the worst of situations, fearing that their child will have a problem. ADHD or something like that.

It may be that yes, the child has difficulty concentrating, but in most cases the problem is that their parents do not know at what age we acquire the ability to maintain attention, Watching with adult eyes the development of their children, who do not stop being children and since all their attention is rather reduced.

Fortunately, this will change as the child grows older, being able to focus for longer, both on fun tasks and on those that they need to give voluntary attention, like homework or being in class. Let’s see.

    At what age do we acquire the ability to maintain attention?

    Attention is executive function that improves and develops as we grow. This is because as we mature, so does our brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain where executive functions are located. For this reason, the degree of concentration of a young child and that of an adult are very different: one cannot expect from an immature brain the same functions as an already fully developed brain.

    When we speak of attention, regardless of age, we can speak of two types: involuntary and voluntary. The involuntary is what we show when we do an activity that we enjoy, which arouses an interest that is not forced at all, while the voluntary is what we have to do our part in, focusing on a task that can be more or less unpleasant for us and in which cognitive effort is required.

    Childcare works the same, only involuntary care prevails. In other words, children focus better and longer on tasks that they find fun or interesting, such as playing games, watching TV or reading a story to them. They can show voluntary attention, that is, force their concentration, but it is rather anecdotal. They have a hard time making that cognitive effort to pay attention to activities that seem monotonous, boring, and heavy.

      How is care evolving?

      We have seen that between 0 and 3 years old, babies concentrate on tasks that attract and entertain them, although in reality any other activity can attract their attention. It should be mentioned that, also, they lose interest quite quickly in everything they do, Those who love and those who dislike. So, at the very least, when presented with a little distracting stimulus, they will give up what they are doing and move on to another. They cannot control it, it is in its nature, there is nothing to worry about.

      Bashinski’s 1985 study, which took 4-month-old babies and divided them into two groups of equal size, is an experimental case in which this was addressed. The experiment consisted of putting them on their parents’ knees and teaching them visual stimuli, especially a chess board. In group 1, they were shown a 4×4 board; while February 1 12×12, with many more squares.

      The babies in group 2, with the most complex plank, were more fixed than those in group 1, now we wouldn’t be talking about sustained attention. Babies simply watched a more complex and striking stimulus for longer, in this case the 12×12 chessboard. It is not a question of voluntary attention or conscious attention, only that, as this second stimulus is more striking, it surprises them more.

      Between 2 and 4 years, voluntary care increases and that’s where we could start talking about how kids can hold their attention. They can pay attention longer, even in the things they don’t like. It is a cognitively demanding activity that requires investing a lot of energy and having a poorly developed neurological structure, especially the prefrontal cortex. At these ages, attention, like the children themselves, is always in diapers.

      As we grow our attention becomes more stable. This is especially noticeable from 3-4 years old, because boys and girls can play the same game for about 30 minutes, and if they like it, they can reach 50 years old. In adults, between the ages of 5 and 6, play can last up to almost an hour and a half. It should also be noted that we are talking about enjoyable activities, because those that are not as much as being in class, concentration lasts less, although it also increases with age.

      According to various studies and observed by child psychologists, educational psychologists, child educators and other professionals working in childhood, we can see this concentration, i.e. the ability to maintain sustained attention increases as she grows older. Below we will see the expected concentration time for each age during childhood:

      • 4 months to 1 year: 3 to 5 minutes
      • 2 years: 4 to 10 minutes
      • 3 years: 6 to 15 minutes
      • 4 years: 8 to 20 minutes
      • 5 years: 10 to 25 minutes
      • 6 years: 12 to 30 minutes
      • 7 years: 14 to 35 minutes
      • 8 years: between 16 and 40 minutes
      • 9 years old: 18 to 45 minutes
      • 10 years: 20 to 50 minutes

      It should be noted that these values ​​are not closed, but a simple orientation. Attention is a human function that has individual differencesIn both adults and children, therefore, there may be children who concentrate more and others who concentrate less than expected for their age. Although they are not indicative of a learning disability or giftedness or anything like that, these values ​​can serve as a benchmark in deciding to go to a professional and see if our child has a problem. .

        Applications of this knowledge

        All this should help many of these parents who, unable to let go of their concern for their role as parents, are very attentive to their children and sometimes, at the very least, exaggerate things. If they see that their children can’t stand reading for more than ten minutes, they start to think that there might be a problem and if, on top of that, they see them playing something that they seemingly like but don’t care about. not tiring at all, are these parents going to put their hair on the end: “But, if you like it, how come you can’t keep playing? What’s wrong?”

        In reality, ADHD is one of the problems many parents believe their children have just seen a psychologist. They don’t know what the diagnostic criteria are, or how to assess them, they just believe that their children have ADHD just because they see them getting lost in what they are doing, without realizing it. ‘they are children. How will they not be confused? Your brain is not yet ready to focus on a stimulus for long.

        It should be understood that the nature of children is very different from that of adults and that they cannot be studied from the point of view of adults, let alone their parents. For example, at 3 years old, we can’t expect a child to be as focused as long as an adult. If we see that he is an emotional child, we must not think that he is hyperactive, distraught and inattentive without more, just that that is it, a child, it is in his nature to be.

        But the reality is that many parents, especially the “helicopter” types, force their children to stay focused more than neurologically possible. An adult, who can concentrate for about 50 minutes at a stretch, thinks a child will too, but they don’t. Before the age of 10, it is virtually impossible to find a child who can be as focused as long as their parents, and it is normal to develop the ability to care for an adult by the age of 12. years or already in adolescence.

        But if some 10 year olds are already able to stay focused for 50 minutes at a time, it must be said that this is not at all common. Attention, like any other human faculty, has individual differences, and children this age have periods of concentration ranging from 20 to 50 minutes. This is very important to keep in mind in class, as students in Grades 3 and 4 will need to change activities every 20 minutes if they are to enjoy the session. Running homework longer than this will result in the loss of many students’ discussion threads.

        In the previous lessons, of course, the activities should last less or at least be more attractive, because voluntary attention is not a strong point of young children, teachers can take refuge in the involuntary and entertain them. while teaching them the content. Children who don’t know what they’re being told end up getting frustrated.By seeing the lessons as a real roll, you run the risk that, for the fun of it, they start making jokes.

        Implications of knowing all this

        By understanding all of this, we can understand why it is so important to know at what age we acquire the ability to hold attention and for how long we can be focused. So parents don’t run the risk of making the mistake of doing home diagnoses. that all they are going to do is label their child incorrectly. A child who believes he has attention problems may experience them, weighing on his academic performance. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        As parents, we must understand that sooner or later the child will be able to concentrate longer, and that we cannot force this process. Some children endure more, others less, but they will gradually get better. If not, if they have a significantly lower ability to take care of what is expected of their age, then yes, there is cause for concern and professional consultation. Now if there are no alarms or anything to indicate that there is a problem, we don’t have to worry.

        Also, we need to understand that time is not the same when you are little. Although this is not quite the case, in a child’s mind 20 minutes can be thought of as two hours for an adult. Their experience of time is longer and slower, so having to focus on something they don’t like can feel like a real heaviness and it is normal that there is a moment when they are distracted. It is not a problem of intelligence, it is that they are bored and each effort has a limit.

        Know your maximum concentration time this will serve us to put the tasks that can be done in the capacity associated with his ageSo to successfully complete it, we will increase your self esteem when you see that you can do them. In addition, we will be able to guide their learning in such a way as to avoid frustration, boredom and fatigue, three aspects that can hinder learning.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Betts, J., Mckay, J., Maruff, P. and Anderson, V. (2006) The development of supported care in children: the effect of age and task load, Child Neuropsychology, 12: 3, 205-221, DOI : 10.1080 / 09297040500488522.
        • Bashinski, HS, Werner, JS and Rudy, JW (1985). Determinants of infantile visual fixation: proof of a two-process theory. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 39 (3), 580-598.

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