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Your Baby's Attention Span

Your baby's attention span is determined by her age, temperament, and method of exploration. Some babies are easily distracted and move quickly from one activity to another. Others can concentrate on a single activity for many minutes at a time. Both styles of exploring the world are perfectly normal.

Early Concentration

Your newborn exhibits her ability to concentrate by staring at your face. During her first few days, her attention span may last only a few seconds. By the time she is about 10 days old, she may fixate or lock in on an object, particularly one that interests her, such as the human face. Studies have shown that newborns can stare at a person for anywhere from a few seconds to four minutes.

Individual style accounts for wide differences in babies' attention spans. Some babies are satisfied with a quick look before moving on to other things, while others prefer to stare for a long period of time. There is also some evidence that infant girls stay focused more easily than infant boys in the first few months, though there is not a significant difference.

As babies grow, they are able to concentrate for longer periods of time. They are also drawn to more complex objects and activities. Your three-month-old now prefers a teddy bear that squeaks when she squeezes it to one that doesn't, or a toy with movable parts that she can manipulate. This is because her thinking is sensorimotor. Her information about the world is processed entirely through her physical movements and senses.

The Reflective Child And The Distractible Child

Some babies become so engrossed in an object or activity that they can hardly be torn away from it. Experts call such children reflective. A baby prone to such preoccupied play may later use her persistence to test boundaries. If your child's interest in an activity seems intense, either gently encourage her to turn her attention to another activity or join in her play, which naturally transforms it into a social interaction.

Other babies move excitedly from one object or activity to another, and may need help in focusing their attention. Remember that everything around your baby is brand new to her. If she appears easily distracted, help her control her excitement by reducing the level of stimulation. Take out only a few toys at a time and keep the environment quiet to encourage calm play and focus. If your child seems consistently frustrated and resists any routine, you may want to ask your pediatrician about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), though this disorder is not diagnosed until the age of five or six.

As Your Baby Grows

From birth to six months, your baby will respond to large black and white geometric patterns, a gently shaking rattle, a mobile hung over her crib, soft toys that she can kick, bat, or reach for, and finger games. Most of all, she will respond to your smiling face.

From six months to one year, your baby will enjoy such activities as drop-and-retrieve (she drops the object and you retrieve it), exploring cardboard boxes, hide-and-seek, and examining your face and hers in front of a mirror.

How To Boost Your Baby's Concentration

  • Play with her. Any toy becomes more engaging if your child sees you moving it.
  • Choose the right time to play. Play with your baby when she is fed, rested, and alert, not when she is hungry, fussy, or ready for a nap.
  • Follow her lead. Observe which objects in a room your baby shows more interest in and bring them to her. Allow her to reach out, grab, and explore them up close. (She will want to examine the object by putting it in her mouth, so don't bring her anything that is breakable, sharp, or has small parts.)
  • Observe what activities keep your child busy the longest. If she likes to empty and refill the laundry basket, let her.
  • Move slowly from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Introduce new objects gradually so that your baby is not overstimulated or alarmed.
  • Try using objects in a different way. If your baby begins to tire of her toy drum, try playing peekaboo with it. If she has had enough of stacking cups, show her how to put them in and out of a bucket.
  • Be spontaneous. When your child suddenly wants to examine a ball instead of throwing it back to you, let her.
  • Don't distract her. Avoid interrupting your child's play by offering her another toy if she appears happy with an activity. She will let you know when she's had enough.
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