Attention and Listening Skills

This leaflet will provide you with information on attention and listening skills in children and the six developmental stages for these skills.

What is the importance of attention and listening skills in children?

Good attention and listening skills will help your child with:

  • Social and Communication skills
  • Learning skills
  • Understanding Language
  • Following instruction

If a child is not following instructions it is important to identify whether this is due to a lack of understanding of the language or whether they are unable to control their attention long enough to process the instruction

What are the developmental stages for attention and listening in children?

The information below describes the six developmental stages for attention and listening that occur from birth to age 6.

  • Stage 1: Fleeting & Extreme Distractibility (Birth to 1 year)
    At this stage the child is easily distracted and their attention is easily diverted by new objects, people or noises. For instance, a child at this stage may initially attend to their parent calling their name but then become distracted by a loud noise outside.
  • Stage 2: Rigid & Inflexible (1 to 2 years)
    At this stage the child can concentrate for some time on a simple task of his or her own choice. They are unable to tolerate any interruptions or interventions and will lose their concentration if this happens. During this time, children can present as self-directed and uninterested in following instructions that are not related to their interest.  
  • Stage 3: Single-Channeled ( 2 to 3 years)
    At this stage the child’s attention is more flexible and they are better able to shift their focus from one task to another. However, the child is still only able to focus on one activity at a time. For example, if a parent gives a verbal instruction whilst the child is playing with a toy, the child would need to put the toy down and then look at their parent and respond.
  • Stage 4: Focusing (3 to 4 years)
    At this stage the child is more able to control their own attention. They are still only able to attend to one task at a time, however they can shift their focus from one activity to another independently.
  • Stage 5: Two-Channeled  (4 to 5 years)
    Typically, children at this stage are ready to attend school. At this point, the child is able to listen to a verbal instruction whilst they complete a task without needing to look up at the instructor. The child is able to sustain this two-way attention for a short period but will eventually concentrate on one task more than the other. For example, they may draw whilst listening to a teacher’s instruction for a short while but will eventually stop drawing and only watch the teacher.
  • Stage 6: Integrated  (5 to 6 years)
    The child is able to share their attention between auditory and visual information at the same time and sustain their concentration for the time required.

How can I help my child develop listening and attention skills?

  • Get the child’s attention before giving general instruction (Example: preface the instructions by the child’s name, “listen”, and establish eye contact).
  • Encourage joint attention, where the child and caregiver look and listen to the same thing.
  • Use objects that draws your child’s attention like a rattle.
  • Use body language, gestures, and actions to convey messages.
  • Ask the child to repeat what you have said.
  • Ask the child to follow instructions in the form of game.
  • Play add-on stories in a group where each person adds onto the story.