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Lack of Focus in a Three-Year-Old

By Karen Farnen ; Updated September 26, 2017
Active fun helps burn up excess energy.

If you have more than one child, you know that each is a unique human being with his own strengths. Healthy preschoolers are normally energetic, and sitting still for a long period of time is often a challenge for them, especially when they aren't interested in whatever it is you want them to sit for. However, a child's environment has an important effect on the development of concentration. If your 3-year-old lacks focus, you can encourage improvement with positive parenting techniques.

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Typical Concentration

The typical 3-year-old is able to concentrate on play and continue playing despite some outside noises or distractions. She enjoys listening to stories or songs and takes part in simple conversations. She can focus long enough to assemble the pieces of an easy, age-appropriate puzzle. According to the Children's Physician Network, a child with normal attention span can concentrate for three to five minutes for every year of age, or nine to 15 minutes at age 3. However, be aware that the length of time a child can concentrate on television isn't the same as her attention span.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, affects only about 5 to 7 percent of children, according to the Children's Physician Network, and more boys than girls suffer from it. A child with ADHD has trouble listening, completing tasks that he starts and taking turns. The child is easily distracted and forgetful, losing things often. About half of girls and 80 percent of boys with ADHD are also hyperactive, states the CPN. According to MayoClinic.com, lack of concentration is typical of ADHD in girls, while hyperactivity is more common in boys.


Reading with your 3-year old is a good way to help her develop focus and concentration. Remember that most toddlers don't like to sit still for long, so you may have to read in several small chunks each day. ZeroToThree.org recommends reading during snack times, when your 3-year-old is hungry enough to sit for a while. Ask your toddler to act out the story, clap or wave her hands at significant places in the story, or point out pictures. Find books with repeated refrains, and encourage your child to join in by repeating the words together.

Other Activities

Use fun activities to encourage your 3-year-old to concentrate on a specific task and complete it. Start with simple toys, such as blocks, and gradually add in more difficult activities such as puzzles and simple games, such as card-matching games. Encourage staying with the task through positive praise, but stop when your child has had enough. Try art, music and dance, but stick to age-appropriate activities that he can do successfully, recommends MayoClinic.com. Positive accomplishments build his self-esteem and encourage the development of focus.


If poor attention or even ADHD is causing behavioral issues, establish a structured routine for the child, with regular meal, nap time and bedtime. Love and accept your 3-year-old without labeling her as "bad," and provide plenty of safe, active play outdoors and sufficient rest. Have firm rules and enforce them in a calm, nonphysical way, such as with time-outs lasting about 3 minutes, recommends the CPN. If your child is destructive or aggressive for no cause, gets expelled from preschool or becomes impossible to manage, ask for direction from your pediatrician.

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