Children’s, Women’s and Family Services

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Children’s, Women’s and Family Services

Children’s Therapy Services

Speech and Language Therapy

Attention and Listening in the Early Years

Princess Royal Health Centre Broad Street Plaza

Greenhead Road Halifax

Huddersfield West Yorkshire


Tel: 01484 344299 Tel: 01422 261340

Typical development of attention and listening

0-1 year

Attention is fleeting and children are easily distracted.

1-2 years

Children can concentrate on their own task but don’t like to be interrupted!

2-3 years

Children can focus on one thing. They find it hard to listen to another instruction at the same time.

3-4 years

Children can shift their focus from one thing to another.

4-5 years

Children can listen to an instruction and complete another task at the same time.

It is usual for young children to be easily distracted. But it is important to support a child’s attention and listening abilities, because these skills are the foundation stones for all learning.


If a child can focus, they are more able to select the most important bits of information that constantly bombards us every day and ignore background noise. Good attention and listening helps children to understand language.

If your child has difficulties with attention and listening, you may see that they:

  • Are very easily distracted e.g. by noise, objects or movement

  • Fail to follow instructions

  • Have difficulty focusing on a task

  • Find it difficult to take part in group situations

Strategies and Activities

Below are some general strategies and activities that are effective in supporting children to develop attention and listening skills.

  • Call your child’s name to get their attention before you give an instruction

  • Follow your child’s lead—play alongside and comment on what they are doing.

  • Reduce background noise e.g. turn off the television/radio/washing machine, especially when reading a story or doing something you want your child to focus on.

  • Reduce visual distractions around the room, e.g. start with only having one or two toys out to play with. As your child gets better at focusing their attention, gradually introduce a few more toys.

  • Get down to your child’s level so they can see your face when you’re talking/playing with them.

  • Use lively facial expressions! These will keep your child’s attention on you.

  • Encourage your child to watch and listen to you by using specific language, e.g. “look at mummy”

  • Reinforce good listening with praise e.g. “good listening!”


  • Listening to sounds - encourage your child to listen to different sounds in everyday life, e.g. telephone, animals, doorbell etc.

  • Use a variety of musical instruments or things that make a sound. Ask your child to close their eyes while you play one musical instrument. Your child can then open their eyes and choose which instrument you have just played.

  • Using toy animals, put some animals in front of your child. Make a noise for one of the animals and ask your child to choose the correct animal.
  • Play ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’- using a car or a ball, encourage your child to listen and wait by saying ‘Ready, Steady…’ and pausing before you say ‘Go!’ (make sure your child is looking at you before releasing the ball or car and saying ‘Go!’). You can also do this for:

- Jigsaws: wait for “go” before putting a piece in
- Building a tower: wait for “go” before putting a brick on/knocking it down
- Books: wait for “go” before turning the page/lifting the flap.

  • Take turns to build a tower with bricks, roll a ball or complete a jigsaw. Encourage your child to wait for their turn and stay focused on the activity.

For more information:
Speak to your health visitor or drop in at your local children’s centre. If you have any questions about the information or strategies in this information sheet, please contact the SALT team at:
Princess Royal Health Centre Broad Street Plaza

Greenhead Road Halifax

Huddersfield West Yorkshire


Tel: 01484 344299 Tel: 01422 261340


Please see our Children’s Therapy Services website and follow the links to Speech and Language Therapy for information, leaflets, advice and resources.

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