There is a fairly well accepted myth that small children do not have long attention spans. Over the years I have come to see that there is just no truth to this idea - and indeed the opposite is often more true - the adults in children's lives are the ones that have limited attention spans.
Even very small children will show you time and again that they actually have remarkable abilities to focus and stick with an activity for extended periods of time. Let me give you a few examples that I'm sure most parents of small children can relate to: bubbles, crawling up and down stairs, reading a story over and over again, watching a TV show over and over again, listening to their favorite song over and over again (anyone see a theme emerging here?)
So the question is, why does this myth exist? Well there are a couple of things that *are* true about children. One is that there is no stigma for them to move on once they are finished with something. When they are ready they move on, whether they feel like they "got there money's worth" or not. Also they do not feel compelled to pay attention to things that *do not hold there attention*. If something does not interest them or is just plain boring they have no problem shifting their energy elsewhere.
Onto adults, many of whom feel this myth is true about children. I would like to ask you - how many times is your child engaged in something and really, REALLY wants to keep going? (Just one more time mom!) How many times have you been playing with your young child and are already mentally drifting towards the next thing *you* want to do? How many times have you tried to convince your child to move on (ie you're at a museum and they just want to stay at one exhibit or you're at the park and want to go home)? So who has the short attention span now, huh? (To be clear, I'm only really in touch with all of these examples because I have been guilty of all of them!) So often we miss the things that captivate our children because *we* are too busy pushing forward.
Another thing many adults do is minimize or even disparage things that their children children love. Why is it that when children are watching a television program we say they are mesmerized or zombies? Why don't we look at them and think, "Wow, they are so focused! They are really into this program!" If a parent walked into a classroom and saw that same intent expression on their child they would be proud. Or what about reading? I am one of those people that gets so into a book that I hear nothing. Most parents would think this quality is endearing, because after-all, the child is *reading* and this is a socially acceptable, "worthy" activity. When we try to talk to our child while they are watching a show (aka INTERRUPTING!) we are doing a few things: 1) being rude 2) telling them that what they are doing is not important and 3) failing to recognize THEY ARE PAYING VERY CLOSE ATTENTION TO SOMETHING!
Based on my observations I recommend a couple of things to parents and adults everywhere: 1) work on your own attention span and 2) *pay attention* to all the amazing things that are already captivating children every day. In my very humble and loving opinion, children are not the ones who need help paying attention.
7/28/2012 09:57:42 pm
great perspective. mallers will do bubbles til my arms fall off :).. i just give in and let her have the whole bottle she has half for a snack then the rest washes her clothes.. then everyone's happy!
Ha! I know Ema - bubbles are every parents dream and nightmare rolled into one (dream when someone else or a machine is making them, nightmare when it's you and you've been blowing for goodness knows how long!)
susan, i know i'm not a parent-- and don't read many parenting blogs, but just as someone who loves hanging out with kids, i wanted to comment on this and say how insightful i think it is. not only were all your examples convincing, but i also think you are totally right (not to mention thoughtful and observant)!
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Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.