Attention and listening development

ONE of the important components of speech and language development is attention and listening.


It is the basis for learning everything.

When your child has good attention and listening skills, it will support development in other areas such as their ability to make and maintain relationships (social skills), understanding of language, use of language, speech sound development and all areas of learning.

It is, therefore, important that a child develops good attention and listening skills. 

Stages of development

There are different stages of attention and listening development although each child will develop it at a different pace:

Stage 1: Distractible (0-1 year approx.) – At this stage, children are very distractible.

They can only focus on what is their current interest and be easily distracted by other things in their environment.

Stage 2: Single Channelled Attention (1-2 years approx.) – Children can concentrate on a task chosen by themselves for a period of time.

They are unable to focus on more than one task at a time.

This can appear frustrating for an adult as they are unable to direct the child.

It is helpful when caregivers use the child’s name or touch them on the shoulder, for instance, to prompt them to be ready for the instruction they are giving the child.

These help to get the child’s attention.

Caregivers often think their child is ignoring them when they don’t attend to them.

Stage 3: Accepting Adult Attention (2-3 years, approx.) – Although children’s attention is single-channelled at this stage, they can now switch their attention from an activity to a direction/instruction and then back to task again, with support from the adult.

Caregivers will still need to get the child’s attention before giving an instruction.

Words like ‘look’, ‘listen’ help in getting the child’s attention.

Stage 4: Pre-Dual Channelled Attention (3-4 years, approx.) – Children begin to control the focus of their own attention, although their attention is still single channelled.

They are able to shift their attention to and from a task more easily, with less adult support.

They will still need prompts to know when to listen.

The prompts can be visual (asking them to look) or auditory (asking them to listen).

Stage 5: Dual Channelled Attention (4-5 years, approx.) – At this stage, children are now able to give their full attention.

They can do an activity whilst listening to an adult giving instructions.


This is referred to as dual channelled attention. Children are usually starting preschool at this stage.

Their attention span can still be short but they can still manage in group situations as their attention gradually increases with time.

Stage 6: Sustained Attention (5-6 years approx.) – At this stage, children have flexible attention skills.

They are able to sustain attention for prolonged periods and are able to integrate what they are looking at and what they are listening to without difficulty.


If you are concerned about your child’s attention and listening development, seek help.

Children with attention and listening difficulties often require help from professionals such as speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and clinical psychologists to ensure they are being supported to maximise their potential to communicate and to a higher quality of life.

The writer is a Speech and Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor,

University of Ghana.

E-mail: [email protected]

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