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5 Ways to Support... Attention and Listening

If your child struggles to engage in activities for more than a minute or two at a time, or their attention seems 'fleeting' when playing and exploring at home, they may need some support to develop their attention and listening skills. Try the strategies below to help your child attend to, and engage in, play and activities for longer.

1. Motivating activities

Engaging your child in motivating activities can support their willingness to attend for longer periods of time. You can also include their preferred activities/toys/characters in less motivating activities to encourage them to engage and remain engaged for longer periods of time.

2. Activities with a clear end point

Activities with a clear end point make it easier for your child to know and understand when an activity will end, and therefor how long they will need to attend for. Such activities include puzzles, Mr Potato Head, or showing a set number of tasks. You can support your child's attention but offering a small number or tasks initially, or half completing the activity (such as a puzzle), and gradually increasing the number they must complete/engage in, therefor increasing the length of time they attend for.

3. Countdown to the end of the activity

Similarly to the strategy above you can count down to the end of an activity to let your child known how much longer they need to remain engaged, e.g. 'you need to complete 3 more' or '1 more minute'. You can use visual cues, such as holding up your fingers or using a visual countdown to support their understanding and as a constant reminder of how long is left.

4. Visual timers

Visual timers, such as an sand timer or egg timer, can be used to show your child how long they need to engage in a given activity for. As above, these help your child manage their expectations during an activity and support them to attend until the timer finishes.

5. Now-Next visual schedule

Now-Next/First-Then visual schedules are a simple board with 2 photos or symbols on under 'Now' and 'Next'. The 'Now' activity is the less motivating activity that your child needs support to attend to, and the 'Next' activity is a motivating activity they are likely to want to 'work' for. This strategy works by showing your child a motivating activity that will follow the less motivating activity, supporting them to engage in the first activity. You may need to use some of the above strategies to support their attention to the first activity initially until they understand and trust the Now-Next system.

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