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Our boy loses interest in any activity - playing with toys /playing with us/mock singing/you-name-it very soon

The only exception is watching TV (which can go on for 30 minutes uninterrupted) and he now throws all his toys or anything we give him and points at the TV with remote in hand.

Any ideas on how to engage his attention longer with other tasks ?

UPDATE: I'm still receiving good answers to this question.

My son is now 26 months old and we have migrated to new challenges :) Primarily what worked through the earlier months was getting him to explore stuff by himself and bore himself once in a while. The other thing that worked for us - was joining a toy library nearby - so we realized some of his likes/dislikes as far as toys are concerned.

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Same question, but 5 months and 10 minutes .... but we're trying to avoid the TV trap. –  Dave Clarke Jul 28 '12 at 12:59
    
Your username, shinynewbike, fits this question oh so well. –  Thomas Paine Aug 29 '12 at 17:51
    
@ThomasPaine: well he has one of those too :) –  shinynewbike Aug 30 '12 at 11:20

9 Answers 9

up vote 20 down vote accepted

A 14 month old will have a short attention span - letting him watch the TV might seem like a pain free solution, but it generally is considered to actually make things worse.

What you should do is plan for a lot of engaging activities - almost simultaneously.

For example sitting with him on the floor surrounded by a range of different toys which do different things (eg some squeak, some are crushable, some rattle, some come to pieces, some fit inside others) and as he discards one, grab another. You can revisit ones already discarded etc.

The most important factor is that you are a part of this - talking, playing with your son, and engaging with him throughout. If you have some soft, coloured balls, throw them to him - they may not be caught, but at that age many kids like to try, even if they end up having most of them bounce off their nose/hands etc.

When he does get too bored of that, try flying him round the room in your arms, sitting him on your shoulders...this is a high effort part of parenting, which does get easier, but right now you steer everything they do so you should plan for being the entertainment as much as possible.

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Alternatively you can wait until they are 4 years old at which point they will have double the attention span! Just imagine, 6 entire minutes of peace and quiet. We can all dream. –  Thomas Paine Aug 29 '12 at 17:52

Just to add a bit of frugality here: don't throw more toys at your kid. By toys I mean thing you buy and keep somewhere. Maybe just give him or her a roll of toilet paper and I would be surprised if the game of unrolling this thing will not take more than 3mn.

Also, I think letting kids getting bored a little bit on some occasions during the week can be a good idea. Sunday afternoon, TV is off, you read a book in the sofa, kid is on the ground 2/3 meters away, having nothing special to do, maybe just a few book lying around. It usually works well. Or maybe laying on the ground outside in the garden. Kid love to play with grass, sticks, etc.

I think the most important point here is that you should be really reading your book, and let the baby get 95% out of your brain (5% is enough to prevent big issues). The kid will feel it, may complain, but will imitate you sooner than later, and engage for a while in "boring" activities (such as reading or playing alone with anything under the hands).

My own trick for my three years old is that I love playing lego and have plenty of them at home. I really play myself, not playing with him, but building some planes, cars, etc, out of nothing, for hours. He will almost always try to bring me in but then will start playing by himself, building planes and cars. And then will come the time for me to "push forward a bit" showing him why this construct is not solid, etc.

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Most of the opinions here advocate "get him away from that" or the like, with the chosen answer advocating that you "get him into a lot of engaging activities."

The problem is that nobody has asked: What does your baby like?

I'm sure you know the answer to this. If you don't know, then throw lots of varied things his way and observe. It will help you see what he gravitates towards.

Example: when my youngest boy was about that age, we went to a buffet for dinner. For desert, he sorted his M&Ms by color and lined them up perfectly in a row. So we got him megablocks. At 14 mos he would play with a 50 block set for half hour at a time multiple times a day.

When my youngest daughter was about that same age, again out to eat, she would sing nothing, just bla bla bla, as loud as she could. So we got her singing books and musical toys. They would hold her interest for as long as we let her turn pages and push buttons.

Get a handle on what he likes and get him into it a couple sessions a day.

As far as TV is concerned, one of the things I said in another thread on the subject was "Everyone watches tv but nobody wants their kids to watch tv." TV is just like anything in that too much of it can be detrimental. Personally, in the US, I don't think that an hr or 2 of TV a day for a 14 mo old will be more developmentally problematic than the underfunded and shrinking education system. Meanwhile, during that time, you can do some laundry, get dinner started and return phone calls.

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It sounds like your toddler needs to learn the value of self-directed, independent play. Contrary to the belief of many parents, such play is possible. It may, however, take a form a little different than you expect and it will still require your effort. Magda Gerber and her Resources for Infant Educarers really provide an invaluable framework for encouraging self-directed play from early infancy.

Start by just staying out of his play a little bit. Set up a game and see what he does with it. You can see some suggestions for doing this here. What you want to do is engage verbally rather than actually taking over. Ask questions. Encourage. Intervene before frustration causes a meltdown. However provide some space for your toddler's own abilities and interests to direct things.

You can find three rules for fostering independent play in toddlers here. The three rules are fleshed out at that link, but they are:

  1. Learn a less intrusive way to play together [that described above in this answer].

  2. Set limits with confidence, honesty and respect

  3. Encourage play that is as mind-active as possible

Here is another list of tips to encourage independent play:

  1. Choose an activity that is developmentally appropriate for and of some interest to the child.

  2. Consider your own mental and emotional attitude when choosing materials. [How much of a mess can you handle?]

  3. Create an appropriate amount and type of space to do what is necessary along with a helpful amount of containment to keep the mess to a sane level.

  4. Encourage confidence, creativity, and curiosity when you do play together with your child.

  5. Talk with your child about feelings, especially frustration.

You can find further suggestions for becoming a low-intervention parent here. One important point that the linked post makes is that sometimes toddlers will flit from thing to thing. But the idea is to have the toddler be in charge of what he or she is doing - within reason and family rules - so that your toddler learns to be self-entertaining and self-directed within play. That skill will eventually foster long-periods of indepdent play.

And if you get discouraged, remember that there are a lot of myths out there discouraging indepdent play. Don't buy into them. The process of retraining yourself and your toddler towards a less-parent-directed play will take time, but it is well worth it.

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I think, instead of telling this parent why the TV is no good, as they are asking for help in activities, I'd say, get yourself over to Pinterest and search for toddler activities. There are loads of ideas, just pick something suitable for your little one's age range and abilities, and don't be afraid to get messy. :) Good luck & have FUN...together :)

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Part of the issue is probably the TV. For a number of reasons the AAP doesn't recommend that a child under two watch television at all. You might be making it harder for real life interactions to seem paced correctly.

Try putting him next to you in bed, remove all other distractions, including his toys, so that the only thing in reach it you and either one book or one toy. Rotate the object until you find something that holds his interest.

With reading and playing, your tone of voice is very important. Even when he can't understand the words, he can understand the tone. If you sound excited, he will be excited. If you sound bored, he will lose focus really quickly.

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I have a five year old son and no tv at home. Recently we were on holiday, just the two of us, and sometimes in the afternoons I was rather tired of being my son's pay pal, and allowed him to watch tv in the hotel room, so I could relax. After watching for half an hour or an hour of tv, when, with his consent, we turned the tv off and attempted to go out again or whatever, he was strangely aggressive and "high". To me that was a clear indication of what tv does to a child and why I have no tv at home.

Psychological research has shown a clear correlation between the amount of media consumption (tv, computer, video games) and the "excitation level" of the child, of his ability to concentrate, his aggression etc. Developmental psychologists recommend that children below the age of three should not watch television at all. They should learn about the world and experience it, before they experience virtuality. Let them lick their toys, eat sand, scrape their knees, learn to walk, feel the rain, AND EXPERIENCE OTHER HUMAN BEINGS, before they get nailed to the sofa and watch tv with vacant eyes.


Children at 14 months do not have an attention span longer that a few minutes. Children at five years can focus on one thing for as much as fifteen minutes. You see? Three years in the future, and fifteen minutes is normal development. You should adapt your expectations to your child's age. Go and get some good book on developmental psychology (e.g. Berk: Child Development, you can find it in any library I would guess, it is expensive) and learn what a child at 14 months can or cannot do. And get him away from tv. Don't give in to his tantrums, just do what YOU think is right for him. He does not know.

If you lack ideas of what to do WITH your child, stop thinking in that way. You are not brought into this world to be your child's entertainer. Take your child places where he can explore the world safely on his own. Go where there are other children. Children are not made to grow up alone at home. Take him out, create a group with other parents, etc. Think about what you would want at his age, and take him there. Make it fun for you and put him in that environment, and he will learn to make it fun for himself.


Avoid not only the "tv trap", as Dave Clarke put it, but also the boring plethora of toys trap. Children loose interest in their toys quicker, the more toys they have. One toy is a treasure, three toys are fun, but hundreds of toys devalue each other and make each other meaningless: it would not matter, if one toy were lost or broken, so none of the many toys matter. They matter as a whole, but not individually. Children with too many toys tend to start to break them on purpose. They are interested in having toys and getting new ones (shiny new bike), but they lose interest in each individual toy quickly, because a toy is not something to play with but something to get and to have and then to get more.

Clean up your child's toys. With his help, sort out anything that he does not play with (and take out some of the things he forgot about without showing them to him). Then stop getting new stuff for a few months.

Put him in a sling while you take walks. Go swimming with him. Read to him. Put him in a crib for a half the morning. Put him into life.

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Your characterization of "see what tv does?" is inaccurate. I'm no TV apologist, not by any stretch... (I have a television device but no television input signal. It's basically a giant monitor for a pc) but your observation is more akin to someone that's never ever had a 32oz soda from QuikTrip suddenly being able to have one. ANYONE, especially children, that never observes regular television would behave differently after being jacked in to it for a random hour of the sugary insipid things that are out there for children. –  monsto Aug 2 '13 at 7:47

In addition to Rory's answer, which I generally agree to, I had good experiences with the following three strategies:

  1. Take part: Our son was far less likely to get tired of a something when he was/is playing with others. Adults can provide some guidance and motivation to stay focussed, although now (3yrs) peers do have a similar effect.
  2. Avoid clutter: Avoid having lots of toys lying around while playing, rather focus on a small subset - that will help him focus. For example, if the two of you are playing with puzzles, there is no need for his toy cars to lie around. If he wants to play something with else, put away your current toys first, then get the new ones (bonus: he will learn some tidyness along the way). A couple of boxes for the different types of toys is quite helpful here.
  3. Rotate your toys: Supporting #2, you can offer your son some toys he hasn't played with in some time - except for the current favorites these tend to get longer attention. A possible extension of this is to put away some toys for a couple of days. Our child care has very good experiences with toy schedules (Monday dolls, Tuesday train, Wednesday Puzzles...), although I do not think this is very suitable at home.

More reading for example here and here.

You should also keep in mind that a child's attention is just not that long.

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I am guessing that he is used to TV and demands it because everything else is slow and boring in comparison. If that's the case, you have to get him away from that preference.

IMHO, you should wean him off the television. A big bright flashing active screen is not good for a small child; it's sort of a sensory overload because they can't grasp what's going on.

He is going to have to learn that he must entertain himself - no toy will entertain him for him.

Update:
To see some arguments against television, see these questions:

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we're totally against watching the TV as a regular option hence my question. –  shinynewbike Jul 30 '12 at 5:26

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