Toys and Attention Span

Updated on April 12, 2010
S.R. asks from Chandler, AZ
18 answers

My husband thinks it is a good idea to take our 2.5 year olds toys out of the family room and into another room. He wants our son to focus on one toy and then ask to play with another one when he is done with that one. Then we are to walk our son into the other room, have him put that toy away and then get another one out. He said it is teaching him life lessons to focus on one thing and then put it away and get another. I am in complete disagreement with this as I am like just let him play with his toys. I am a sahm and always interact with him when playing, but then encourage him to play by himself throughout the day. I need some other mom's ideas on this. Thanks.

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answers from New York on

Men are so silly! A toddler can't maintain that routine, they play by moving from one toy to the next and then going back to the original toy and sometimes they stack all the toys in a pile to make a castle or other imaginary thing. Toddlers play the way they do because they are using their imagination and learning. I agree with you.

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answers from Florence on

I totally agree with you. He is a toddler. Their attention span improves with age not training! Let him be a kid and have fun.

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answers from Albuquerque on

At 2.5 years old, your son is way too young to understand and follow that practice. Remind your husband that he is 2.5, not 25. Why do men think that kids are just really short grownups? Kids learn through play. If your husband insists on this silly procedure, most of your son's time will be spent going back and forth and fussing because he doesn't understand and can't play. Sure, you will eventually (years and years from now) have one organized kid, but he will also have delays in motor skills, social skills, sensory processing, etc. Plus, nothing else will get done around the house as you steer him back and forth and calm tantrums.
I do believe, however, that it is detrimental to attention to have too many toys available.
You have the right idea, keep up the good work!

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answers from Eugene on

Tell your husband that he can only eat one thing on his plate at a time at the kitchen table. When he is done with that one thing then go back and get the other piece of food for his plate. Then if he is thirsty he needs to take his plate back to the kitchen and get his drink and sit at the get my point. Sorry I couldn't resist.

This is definately the time for your toddlers to expand their minds and motor skills. You don't need to overwhelm him with a huge amount of toys. We got to the point now we have our son play in his room with his legos because they were getting everywhere. There's got to be a balance somewhere. Good luck mama.

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answers from Portland on

Your husband's ideas are not based on empathetic play with his little boy, but on his own ideas about training and organization. They will probably have some merit when your son is in school and learning good study habits, at which point they could be introduced gradually. And you can certainly limit the overall quantity of toys in play at any one time, just to make it safe to walk across the floor. But what Daddy suggests isn't terribly realistic for such a young child.

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answers from Augusta on

I think your husband's idea is pretty ridiculous.
you can teach him to put the toys back after he's done playing without him having to ask for his toys. And asking a 2.5 yr old to do what he's proposing is not very reasonable.

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answers from Austin on

Your sons attention span is at the most 3 minutes. This is completely normal.
If you husband is concerned about messes how about a toy grocery cart or wagon? Let your son fill it up and empty it out. Then it can ALL be rolled int to the storage area when he is through.

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answers from Houston on

your husband has his reasons ,,,, but remind him that it would be very unrealistic to expect a 2 or 3 year old to focus on any one thing for more than a couple min.if he must have it his way maybe he can do the walking.... but remember to not let him get upset at your son when it doesnt go smoothly . also ,every body has their own expectations...and men do like to be in control... in a good way im sure. you cant control a 2 year old... god bless. lots of love

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answers from Phoenix on

Your husband can't expect a 2.5 yr old to follow this's what I would do: Do what your husband says, put all of the toys in another room. Whenever your husband is home, let him be the enforcer of this "plan" of his. You do nothing, and if he wants you to help him just tell him that you are following his plan during the day (even when you are not because it is ridiculous) so he can do it at night. And it was his idea. I guarantee the 2.5 yr old will outlast Daddy. He will get tired of getting up every 3 mins to help him put away the toy and get another one and the "plan" will only be in effect for about a week!

On a more serious note, do the available toys have "homes"? Or are they all just jumbled up in a big toy box? You can START teaching this "one toy at a time (or just a few)" concept now a little but it is helpful to have everything have a place. We got a rack from Target with bins, and each bin has a designated type of toy (one is matchbox cars, one is superhero figurines, etc) and we also use small clear plastic bins with lids for more extensive "sets" like legos, or pretend food, marble run pieces, etc and then stack them in a corner. The 2.5 yr old will probably take more than one toy at a time from the bins, and thats ok. But when it gets excessive, you can show him how to clean up and put things away. It will also help with teaching sorting.

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answers from Flagstaff on

I agree with you, choices are good, and your son needs to have choices of what to play with during times of distraction. I also agree with you that it would be frustrating on a parent to have to stop making dinner 20 times to switch out toys. It sounds like your husband is controlling your son and the toy situation. If he continues to control your son at this age with his toys, I can only image as your son gets older the arguments and control issues you/your family will have to deal with. I highly suggest looking into love and logic's website, books, etc.



answers from Phoenix on

AAHH, the trials of parenting differences:) I am not trying to pick on your husband because in his view he has good intentions for your son, but this is where you will need to get some child development facts for him so he can understand from a researched based point of view. Most men (probably 99%) do think through things and take action one topic at a time. As your son grows your husband will help him beautifully in this area. That said, young children are pretty much incapable of focusing on one thing at a time. They are instinctual creatures (which is a GOOD thing. Adults tend to suck the instinct right out of kids). In fact, most children, unless they are highly sensitive children, learn kinisthetically; that is interactive and multi-sensory. Of course, each child will have a more predominant way of learning, such as auditory, visually, or kinistheticlly, but most young children like and need the choices and options to freedom to go from one thing to the next in a moments notice. And even though a mess free house is nice, how much fun is it for kids to have several toy options out and then they get to use their creativity and imagination even more? All of a sudden the blocks become a road for his toy cars, or the puzzle pieces starting coming to life and talking to toy animals. You get the picture:) Limiting a child's exposure to one thing at a time when they are young might be convenient, less messy, and easier to control for the adult, but from the child's perspective it's just plain boring and keeping them from really expanding thier imagination, creativity, problem solving, and it can be frustrating because they need to be able to explore their little world and have some self control and mastery over it. As parents/caregivers we just guide them and set up appropriate boundaries for thier safety.
Ask your husband from where does his beliefs come from? How is it a problem for HIM if your son has several toys out instead of just one? Ask him to look at it from your sons point of view. As a compromise, you and your husband can agree to teach your son to put his toys away as soon as he's done playing with them, and because he's so young you will probably have to help him. I find it helpful if children's toy area is organized in easy to reach colorful bins/baskets/etc.
Eventually your son will be able to focus on one thing at a time....but honestly, it usually doesn't happen until they reach adulthood:)

I find that guiding and encouraging my kiddos (who range from 4-13), to always keep thier heart's desire and mind on a particular goal, but just live and enjoy being in the moment (which they do anyway) without being attached to the outcome, they will most likely get done what they want to get done and along the way they may encounter many wonderful opportunities for growth and joy. Honestly, I think that most kids do this naturally and organically, but as we become adults beliefs, culture, judgments from others, make us feel that we have to go through life thinking in our heads and not in our inner knowing. This is for another conversation, but does relate to how little ones learn and understand.

As for your disagreement with your husband. Understand his good intentions about this. Validate his thoughts and beliefs (validating does not mean agreeing or even understanding, just having compassion for his view points), ask questions, and come up with a compromise. Also, on another note that kind of's completely ok for each parent to have thier own style of parenting. As long as fundamentally you agree on how to raise your kiddos, each parent will have their own unique way of teaching and relating.

Best wishes and happy parenting!

mom of 4. Married 16 years. Birth and Parenting Mentor



answers from Tucson on

I can say we have a toy box in the family room and a toy box in each kids rooms. They have several clean up times throughout the day. It seems to work well as long as we keep to the clean up times. If we walk in after they have been playing a while and it is a complete disaster, then we say clean up time and they pick everything up and put it away. Then we say ok, you can play again. The kids make a game out of the cleaning like throwing the toys into the box and yelling score. It gets done though. Maybe if you have a clean up time before the hubby comes home so it is nice and neat when he walks in, he may see things a little differently. I am not sure, but it might work.

D. P.



answers from Phoenix on

As others have said, that's too much to ask of a 2 yr. old and of you! Who has time to reinforce a rule like that? It's not realistic, nor does it encourage creative play. Kids learn by playing and it's a little hard to play creatively when you can only have 1 toy out at a time. I'm all for keeping a house tidy, but there are better ways to deal with it. It's always worked for me to have "clean up times" throughout the day. The kids are welcome to play with the toys that they want, but when it is clean up time, they are expected to clean. For me it works well to clean up before lunch, dinner, and bedtime. I also like to have a clean up time before we go somewhere. That especially works well if you're going somewhere enjoyable. "Let's clean up so we can go to the park". Good luck!


answers from Albuquerque on

this is a great question! I totally see where your husband is coming from.

However, as an OT (and mama to 2 and 4 yo boys), I would like to suggest you not clear out all the toys. A BIG part of child development is involved in play, including what your husband sees as "random" play (going from toy to toy and not playing with any particular toy in exactly the way it was meant to be played with).

At 2.5, your child is learning and developing through exploration of his world/environment. He is not going to necessarily gain any benefit developmentally from playing with only one toy at a time (he doesn't get the opportunity to "discover" toys and how they work, or how they might work together).

This is actually why most first-born children are better learners than their younger siblings: they have had to discover toys themselves, and don't have an older child to teach them that each toy has "rules" to playing with it.

If what your hubby wants to foster is "focus," from a 2.5 year old, consider giving him toys that are more multi-purpose (the infamous child-plays-with-the-box-the-toy-came-in scenario). Avoid toys with switches and buttons that "do" things, and choose more general toys your child can use their imagination with.

Good luck.


answers from Dallas on

It's a proven fact that having many toys around can have negative effects by many well known child psychologists. I do agree that only one toy at a time is a little much, perhaps having a small corner of a few toys would be more ideal for his age and store the rest in his room.

For example, I have blocks out, but my children don't touch them when their toy basket is out because they have so much to wade through and they bore of everything easily and get irritated... But, if I put the toys away, and pull out the blocks or a puzzle, they have so much fun concentrating and playing with them and using their imaginations. My kids are the same age as yours.

Also, at 2.5 your son is old enough to get his toys and put them away on his own, he may need to be shown several times and have help at first, but with kids his age, they love to stack, sort, dump things out and put them back, So, in itself, putting the toy away and grabbing another could very well be like a game.

The Guardian recently published an article examining the effects of children having too many toys. As you can probably guess, the results are not positive. The findings were that an overload of toys can possibly hinder child development and creativity. Also, having too many toys can affect the child’s attention span and leave them giving up on an item quickly.

You may understand a little better from this article:

"One of the greatest myths perpetuated by schools and the media is that young children do not have long attention spans. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the last few decades, we have inadvertently crippled the natural concentration of young children through television’s chopped up programming, too many toys that require no creative thinking, and segmented public education. Then we mistakenly call the existing deficit in their ability to concentrate inherent.

In order to observe the actual attention span of a young child, we only need to watch children when free to use their time as they wish, without television, and with no one to design the day for them or break it into rigidly structured segments. They are absorbed in whatever they do for hours and days, forgetting to eat and often refusing to go to sleep!

Have you ever read to your child the same story or page over and over again? Who got tired first - you or the child? If we keep responding to the child’s need for repetition, we will support his innate ability to concentrate on one task. Long attention span is the child’s nature, as long as she pursues her own passions without being interrupted by school bells or by our own agenda for her. Even dinner and bedtime are not holy and can give way to respecting the child’s innate guide.

The following are some of the common robbers of children’s innate ability to focus, and guidelines on how to use these same resources productively:"

(ideas in link)



answers from Albuquerque on

Just throwing out a quick idea: I'm not good about enforcing clean-up w/ kids (easier to do it myself), but since my son started Montessori as a 4-year old, he's really learned to be a good cleaner-upper. Not sure if this is your situation or not, but if your husband is needing more "order" to his living space, something like the general Montessori approach might be helpful. The idea is to have a well-organized, completely visible area of toys. Each toy have a tray or bin that distinctly separates it from another toy. Each toy involves some sort of interaction (skills like sorting, counting, etc.) and creativity (not computerized toys). Once done w/ a toy, child puts it back on the shelf and selects another. It's important for things to be very visible and orderly, which helps to foster the child's feeling of control over his environment. Weekly or monthly, you can change out the toys to create newness. It can also work to keep toys in a closet, and each day, set out several bins of different toys (blocks in one, figurines in another, trains in another), varying the activity each day. This will keep the options new and interesting (and doesn't require your son to ask for a new toy; just select from fewer options).


answers from Norfolk on

My son has built houses from Legos for some of his stuffed animals and used his Match Box cars with Legos and other toys, too. I understand not overwhelming with too many toys at once, but a few used together makes for some pretty creative playing. Husbands idea might be better when child is about 5 or 6 yrs old, but trying to do this at 2 1/2 is only going to get you a dose of the terrible 2's (or 3's) and you don't want to provoke temper tantrums right now - the kids will come up with their own reasons for melting down without any help from Dad.



answers from Columbus on

Good lord. You cannot teach a 2.5 year old to have an attention span. Limit his toys becuse you do not want to spoil him, limit his toys so that he can help pick them up by himself, limit his toys so that you encourage creativity, but for goodness sake, it is absurd to limit his toys so that he learns anything else...let alone how to pay attention.

IMO, you should limit your husband's parenting ultimatums until he has read some good books about childhood development. Is he controling in other ways too?


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