Attention and language


When a child has difficulty understanding and expressing themselves clearly, the Speech and Language Therapist is usually expected to offer only language/speech exercises.

However, speaking clearly can be viewed as the tip of a pyramid, the foundation of which is formed by cognitive skills that are essential for proper language development.

It is extremely difficult to develop appropriate language skills if these skills are lacking or impaired.

One of these important cognitive skills is attention.


What exactly is attention?

Simply put, attention is the ability to select from our surroundings the stimuli we require while ignoring those we do not.

For example, in a situation where two people are having a conversation with the TV on in the background, both must have the ability to focus on the other person’s words and ignore the sound of the TV.

This cognitive ability allows us to focus on what is important to us rather than being distracted by stimuli that we do not needs, which is why attention is one of the cognitive functions that accompany us 24 hours a day – everything we do, whether it’s making a sandwich, watching a movie, or moving from place to place, requires the use of our attention.

And, because attention is the foundation of all daily activities, it is also the foundation of language: a child who struggles to pay attention to what we say to them will struggle to understand, memorise, and use new words.

But how do I know if my child has attention difficulties, and how can I support their attention span when they play with me? Below you will find the attention development stages and many ideas to support your child’s attention and, consequently, their language.



0 to 1 year

The child can only pay attention to a stimulus for a few seconds during his first year of life. During his first year, the child can focus on certain stimuli for longer and longer periods of time, up to a few minutes.

Activities that can be used to stimulate attention at this age include singing songs with actions, playing with bubbles, tickling…


1 to 2 years

The child is now able to concentrate for a few minutes on an activity of their choice. To focus on something else, the first stimulus must be removed.

Games to stimulate attention at this age include: playing with a mirror and shaving cream, throwing the ball in turns, singing songs with actions together and encouraging the child to do the actions.

2 to 3 years

At this age the child is able to pay attention to an activity of their choice for longer. When they are focused on an activity, their attention can be gained by calling them by name or saying “look”.

Jigsaw puzzles can be used to support attention. Another effective game is to play a musical instrument (known to the child) without them seeing it and waiting for them to guess it.

From 3 to 4 years

During this stage, the child has more control over his attention and can direct it to the interlocutor when given instructions.

The following games are appropriate for this age group: find the differences, traffic light game, find specific objects in the house…


From 4 to 5 years

At this age, the child can focus on something for a few minutes without being distracted, that timeframe can increase day by day. As a result, they are able to pay attention to their Reception (or final year of kindergarten) teachers for longer and longer periods of time.

Games that help with attention during this stage include “the Shopping List,” telling stories where the child has to do an action when he hears a word, and “Musical Chairs”

These are just a few ideas to help your child’s attention, which, along with other cognitive skills, is the foundation for proper language development.


If you want more information and specific advice, you can book my first free demo session by clicking the button below!