Toddler attention span

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Toddler attention span

Young children have short attention spans. At 18 months, we expect a child to go from object to object, from activity to activity. They are in total exploratory mode, and this is normal and healthy. They have mobility and curiosity with little judgment. That's one of the reasons why parenting a toddler is so tiring. One of the abilities that helps us with attention span is imagination. So a shovel can turn into a magic wand that turns the buckets into boats into the ocean. Another ability is to plan sequential actions. If without these ability, mainly for its physical attributes, that doesn't hold a child's attention. We can expect a four year old, during imaginative play, to plan sequential actions to be able to focus on an activity. We can't expect that of an 18 month old. With growth, our children's attention span increases as they learn new skills and new ways of playing.

Watch Barbara Olinger, MSW's video on Toddler attention span...


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Barbara Olinger, MSW

Family Consultant

Barbara Olinger has her Masters in Social Work and has worked with children and families in both educational and therapeutic settings for over 35 years. This has included being a Child and Family Therapist, the Supervising Clinician in an outpatient mental health clinic, a co-founder of a co-operative preschool, and Director of Family Development at the YWCA Santa Monica / Westside. In her current private practice, Barbara focuses on parent education and support for parents of children ages 1-10 years old and preschool teacher training. She offers on-going groups, individual/couples sessions, a monthly Dads Group, workshops on a variety of parenting topics, and phone consultations. Barbara has two sons, 29 and 26 years old.

The roots of healthy development begins with having our needs met. This is a requirement for growth: to separate, to feel confident physically, emotionally and socially, to gain a healthy sense of self, to be able to become compassionate. When our needs are supported, we develop from a foundation of trust- in our relationships and in our exploration of the world.

Strong families are built on a foundation in which development is understood and celebrated, mistakes are allowed, feelings are validated and connecting with others is emphasized. Parents can set limits with behavior while supporting needs in a way which promotes learning and self-esteem.

During this whole parenting journey, it is crucial to be conscious of our own needs and to take care of ourselves. Sharing our fears and anxieties about parenting with others can help us realize we all feel vulnerable at times and this can provide a space for growth and connection. Every parent need support!

Barbara’s parenting book “Growing From the Roots” and two DVDs (“Growing From the Roots” and “Welcoming Your Second Child”) are available through

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