Attention and listening

Many young children find it difficult to learn to wait, share and take turns

Your child may play happily for a short while with something they have chosen to do but find it difficult to concentrate on a new activity or listen to ideas that you suggest. This short attention span may slow down your child’s ability to learn new words and speech sounds.

Key points to remember

Try to have a quiet room. Switch off the TV and radio.

Keep activities short. 5 minutes of good work is valuable.

Get down to your child’s level and encourage them to look at you.

Praise your child and keep it fun!

Activities to encourage turn taking

You may need another adult so your child can sit on their lap to help focus their attention and take their turn.

Use language such as “my turn, your turn”.

If your child is reluctant to take turns, let them have two turns to your one turn. If they are still unwilling, remove the toy altogether and come back to it later.

Activities to encourage listening and waiting

Give and take games

Games, such as rolling a ball back and forth to each other. You could vary this game by playing with other toys, such as cars, bean bags and wind up toys.

Ready Steady Go

Explain to your child that they cannot do the action until you say “go”. Gradually increase the time between saying “ready, steady” and “GO”.


Your child hides and has to wait for “boo” before popping.

Posting boxes

Take turns to post a shape into a box, or tidy toys.

The importance of play

Play is a very important activity in the development of speech and language skills. Early pretend play sometimes revolves around a favourite teddy bear or doll.

Encourage your child to give the teddy a drink, brush their hair, wash their nose, put them to bed, and more, and to tell you what they are doing, such as “teddy bed” or “teddy drink”.

Don’t feel you have to do all these activities every day. Include one or two in your daily routine, such as saying “socks on or off” when they are getting dressed or “more juice” or “all gone” at mealtimes. You could try some of the other ideas at other times.

Don’t put too much pressure on your child to always talk. Remember, talking is a two-way process and in each of the activities suggested, it is best if you take your turn too, with talking and taking part in activities.

Correcting your child may make them feel anxious. Try instead to accept their attempts at words and show you have understood before saying the word back to them clearly.

This guide has been based on the guide developed by Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust.

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