ADD runs in our family ("in fact, it practically stampedes"), and I'm starting to see my toddler's attention become more and more difficult for him to control; he's beginning to have difficulty maintaining focus in the face of mild distraction even to get something he desperately wants.

I know that children's brains are surprisingly elastic and that things like attention and impulse-control must be learned, and must be learned at an early age. So I'd like to give the boy as much of a advantage as he can get in the face of heredity.

Are there any well-defined exercise or activities that have been shown to increase a child's (ca. 3 to 5 years old) ability to resist distraction and increase impulse control?

N.B.: I'm not looking for general advice ("make sure he gets plenty of rest") or things to avoid ("turn off the television"), I'm looking for activities and games to play that will actually help improve concentration, attention, patience, etc.

3 Answers 3


I have the same concern with my children with ADD for similar reasons. I found that playing games like Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Zingo and as they get a bit older games like Guess Who, Sorry, and games of that ilk really help them. They enjoy the personal experience they have with a parent and they learn to sit, wait their turn, and finish out a game. In the Beginning you may consider declaring a shorter end, for example half way through the board. However, this must be done prior to beginning the game so the child doesn't learn that when they get board or loose attention they can just quit. You must also be ready to invest your time, which I know sometimes can be hard.

Good luck, and either way your kids will be fine. Also, don't forget that toddlers in general have a short attention span so don't fret (yet :)).

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    +1 for "toddlers in general have a short attention span". When conditions run in the family, we sometimes find things that are not there. ADD runs in our family too. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 15:09

As a former preschool teacher I'd like first to point out that toddlers are known for having little to no attention span ADHD or not.

As a teacher that spent time in a specialized classroom with middle school students where a majority of my students had severe ADHD in addition to other learning/behavioral disabilities, the first and most important things are those you mention in your question, and just spending quality and positive time together which builds his confidence and self-esteem.

In addition, regular meditation can help improve focus but I have no idea how to get a toddler to meditate. You can also check out children's yoga programs as the physical activity combined with stretching can be a good decompressor between activities that require more focus and/or sitting relatively still for longer periods.

Also, more and more research is showing that ADHD isn't really a lack of attention as much as it is attention on too many things at once. They can often actually look like they are not paying attention at all and still do BETTER on information retention after a learning activity than their non-ADHD peers if they are using a few techniques that allow for smaller movements that are not distracting to others around them. This article is really for school aged children, but might be useful to you anyway.

Activities that reduce stress can also help relax children so they are more likely to focus. Although these are not activities that help "fix" or "improve" attention spans or focus long term, sensory activities can be soothing and help them to get a breather from distractions to prepare them for a period when they will need to focus a little more. Sensory Activities also help with a number of other skills like stress management and muscular control. These are probably the closest activities to what you are looking for.

It can also help them all through their preschool and school years to have a "fidget" to use to focus their energy into a small, non-distracting fidget they can use while listening to something else.

Also, aside from the things you mention as "general" I will give you a couple of additional environmental factors that can help reduce stimulous factors that can be disruptive to attention span that you didn't mention. Earthy but light pinks, greens and blues as the main colors on walls are helpful to increase attention spans for those people in the environment. There are special lightbulbs that can also help with this (just the right range of wavelengths and no buzzing - I'm really sorry I forget what they are, but you could probably ask on the Bridges Academy (California) page because they use them) and minimize clutter. Make sure your kid's bedrooms have only a few pieces of artwork and at least one wall that is not "decorated" by anything.

I hope you'll find this helpful.

  • plus one for being aware of potential sensory issues! :) Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 23:58

I'm pushing 40 and I still have these issues. If there was a way to 'learn' how to fix ADD, I'd sure love to see it. ;)

Alas, there really isn't. There's coping strategies, though. A big one that really helps all children (and many of us ADD adults) is a consistent schedule. Perhaps set up a daily schedule and put it up on the wall. 8:30 breakfast. 8:45 get dressed, etc.

You could talk to a therapist/psychologist that specializes in children with ADD. Not sure they'd have you do a whole lot at the toddler age, though.

Remember, ADD isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just a different way of the brain working.

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    Bear in mind that this isn't about fixing ADD, but rather about developing impulse control etc. in a toddler. This has been demonstrated to be not only possible, but essential in early development. Children who do not adequately develop these skills are at a life-long disadvantage since it is so difficult to develop later in life. This does not change whether someone has ADD, but it's my opinion that it might help in dealing with day-to-day activities, since being disadvantaged in that area would only compound the problem.
    – tylerl
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 2:24
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    Maybe not so much with ADD, but lacking impulse control is definitely a side effect of ADHD. So if that's the root cause, it may require different strategies than if it weren't.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 4:17

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