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3yo attention span??? and DS is driving me insane...

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
DS is going on 3 & I feel like his attention span is just getting worse and worse. I feel like it's nearly impossible to engage him in any kind of activity. Coloring -- he'll make one mark on the paper (always with black!!) and he's done. Crafts -- 2mins tops. Fine motor activities (his favorite) I can get almost 3mins out of him. Things like puzzles usually involve me doing most of the puzzle while he pretends he doesn't know where the pieces go (seriously... he obviously knows where they go) and he'll set up games and play them for one round before making a mess of the game board. Running around outside - 30 seconds. Taking a walk - 2mins. You get the idea... No matter what we do, it never lasts more than a minute or two. And he has virtually no ability to entertain himself (doesn't really play) so I just can't figure out what to do with him all day. We end up reading a lot, I don't understand how he can sit & listen to books for an hour straight but won't do anything else. Oh and listening to music, that's about the only other thing he will focus on. I end up feeling really frustrated because he just won't DO anything. I'd love for some independent activity but that's so out of reach, I just want him to engage in a joint activity for 5 or 10mins!! I feel like he's bored and when I introduce new activities, he seems interested at first, but it never lasts. Sometimes the activities are a bit too easy so I come up with really hard ones and that will give us an extra minute but that's it & if it's too hard he won't even try. Maybe my expectations are completely unrealistic... how long is your ~3yo's attention span???

And I can't figure out discipline at all. Redirection doesn't work anymore, reasoning only works 25% of the time, logical consequences & natural consequences are only about 10% effective, if that. Lately I've been making crazy & unreasonable threats (like, "If you can't be quiet, we are never coming back to the library again!") and obviously they don't work but it's just my frustration level is so high that I don't know what else to do. Time-outs would traumatize him because he is terrified of being away from me (when the discipline involves him being rough with me or something, DH will take him into another room to get him away from me... he can't seem to be in a room by himself even for a few seconds, he is truly too scared). Time-ins just make him silly, he thinks it's a game. Reading calms him down almost instantly but in many situations just doesn't feel appropriate (too much of a reward, I guess?) He won't get dressed, won't brush his teeth, won't stop damaging & destroying the house, won't stop screaming, won't stop climbing on me, won't stop doing dangerous things, I feel like we have absolutely no ability to keep him somewhat well-behaved & respectful of personal boundaries & property. It's hard to feel connected with him because I feel like he's operating on some completely different plane. He is highly verbal & has great comprehension and an amazing ability to read between the lines & decipher what DH & I are saying when we're trying to be subtle or secretive. So I know he understands what's expected of him & why and what the consequences might be & all, he just doesn't seem to care.
post #2 of 12

The attention span sounds developmentally appropriate, honestly.  A lot of kids don't like to sit and color and play games.


One thing I will say, is that you are not responsible for keeping him entertained, and that it sounds like you are trying to find ways for him to be entertained, but that is really his work. 


What about a big bin filled with rice or beans, with little hot wheels, animals, etc.?  Sensory experiences like playing with shaving cream, clay, home made play dough? Having an eye dropper of colored water and dropping it into a clear glass of water?


What about books on tape/books on cd?  My kids loved to listen to stories and folk song stories at that age.  Pete Seeger --Abiyoyo!  We go to the library for new stuff, and if we find something good I burn it.  Shell Silverstein has a few CDs of him reading his poems and those are a big hit, too. Burl Ives....


Do you have a yard where he can wander safely by himself?  What about a bunch of bamboo or other sticks to build a fort?  Or some sheets to make a tent? Block stilts? Making obstacle courses? 


If he loves music, how about a lap harp?


Other open ended toys without a purpose such as blocks and train sets, play silks, etc. are fun, too! 


As far as behavior, I don't know if he has chores or responsibilities, but maybe having a few jobs will make him feel more in control of his environment and more a part of it. 


Also, Check out this book from the library

Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy


I get these whenever my kids turn a new age.  They have been so helpful in explaining the developmental planes of each age... They are from the 50s so some of the practical advice is dated, but the details about what is happening in my kid are so helpful.... sometimes just knowing that this is going to be a rough phase, and my kids will be very different in 6 months is so helpful! 



post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the suggestions. Chores might be a good idea, he does sort of have responsibilities but I have no way to enforce that he actually does them. If I can figure that piece out, it might help him to have more solid 'jobs' to do.
Originally Posted by carmel23 View Post

The attention span sounds developmentally appropriate, honestly.  A lot of kids don't like to sit and color and play games.
I guess I'm saying that those are the things he enjoys most (besides reading, that is) but even for those things he won't pay attention for more than a minute or two. I've tried nearly all of the things you listed -- playdough, sensory bin, building, open-ended toys, etc. NONE of it works. I know it is not my job to entertain him but I can't NOT entertain him because then he just cries and climbs on me and destroys everything. We do have a yard but there's not a chance on earth he'd go out there & play by himself, and even when we are out there with him he won't do anything, just wants to be picked up. I don't really understand how to not entertain him if he won't do anything on his own. He won't even go to the bathroom by himself (though he is fully capable, and it's only 3 steps from the room I'm in). DH & I are both home full-time and we still are both exhausted by the end of the day because of the constant 1-on-1 attention he requires. Most of my friends' kids will go play in another room for 5mins, or get immersed in some kind of play/game/activity/project for 10mins here & there. Actually most of them will entertain themselves for 15-20mins at a time. Maybe they have unusually long attention spans????

He does have a lap harp & he is getting a guitar for Christmas. I'm hoping the guitar will entertain him for stretches of time but who knows. It's the only thing he asked for. We do have audio books & he does enjoy them. It seems like all wants to do is sit & listen to things. He doesn't really want to move or participate in anything. greensad.gif
post #4 of 12

Have you cut out all artificial food dyes and artificial flavors from his diet?  Sounds like how my kid acts when she has eaten red 40, etc. 



post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
He doesn't eat (and never has eaten) any artificial colors/flavors. I do think he might be reacting to something, but I can't for the life of me figure out WHAT.
post #6 of 12

If he loves books, do you have any that he can look at on his own? My son loves the big lift the flap books that explain how things work. Also any book with trucks. My ds will also sit and read for hours at a time, but he will read to himself.


I will say though, that I had to teach my son to play by himself - as a single mom I just can't get everything done that needs to get done if I'm paying attention to him constantly. When I'm cooking, he can be in the kitchen but I can't play with him - thats what his cars and toys are for.


I'm not sure what you have tried as far as getting your son to play alone, but it might be time to nudge him in that direction. I'm not sure how you would feel comfortable doing that, but when my son threw a tantrum because I wasn't paying attention to him I just let him throw the tantrum. I couldn't get dinner ready if I was playing with him, yk? He had to figure it out, and he did. It took time, but he started playing alone (we had to do this at about 18mo - not ideal but I needed to feed us both!).

post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
He won't look at books alone because he says he doesn't remember the words (which is a bizarre statement, he knows many of our books by heart, I think he is just afraid of forgetting & getting the story 'wrong' for some reason???)

We have worked on getting him to play alone, with the help of EI... we have done things like gradually expand on the length of time we leave him (we're never really able to get past a minute or two though) and no-pressure rewards for completing activities on his own, things like that... and of course there are times when he just has to cry while I do whatever I need to do, but those don't help him play alone more in the long run. The few times he has played alone, he has spent the time destroying things. Most of the time he just follows us around & I don't really know how to avoid that -- like if I'm cooking, he'll drag his chair into the kitchen to climb up & "help"... no matter how many times I move the chair back to the table he just keeps dragging it back, screaming the whole time, you know? Unless I locked him in a room (which I can't do, his anxiety is too high, it really would traumatize him), there is no way to get him to be by himself.

But really, I've kind of mentally given up on him playing alone because it feels like such an unreachable goal. I'd be happy if I could just get him to engage in anything with me present...

I kind of feel dumb posting about all this, I know I sound crazy or something. greensad.gif
post #8 of 12

Might he need more sleep? Or less sugar? (it's in, like, EVERYTHING and I have noticed a difference in my child on days when she has more of it.)

post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 
He does need more sleep but he just won't sleep lol. Though he is actually doing better & getting 10-12 hours of sleep most days lately. I think I finally figured out he is on a 25-hour cycle or something instead of a 24-hour cycle... I think that's what messes up his sleep (besides his complete & utter resistance to giving in to exhaustion!!) However I have no idea what else to do about that, I've read Sleepless in America & lots of other books & nothing seems to work to get him consistently more well-rested.

He doesn't eat much sugar.
post #10 of 12

Another vote for a food or foods he is sensitive to. Can you keep a food-behavior journal and look for links?


How is his intake of Omega 3s, choline, B-vitamins, ...all those things needed for good brain functioning?

post #11 of 12
Originally Posted by ASusan View Post

Another vote for a food or foods he is sensitive to. Can you keep a food-behavior journal and look for links?


How is his intake of Omega 3s, choline, B-vitamins, ...all those things needed for good brain functioning?

Fish oil *really* helped my LO be less anxious.  I mean, big time! 

post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 
He eats really well & takes a vitamin, plus he's still nursing. We are vegan but I did just get some chia seeds (very good source of omega 3's etc.) for myself, maybe they'd help him too with his anxiety. I am leaning more toward an allergy or something rather than a nutritional deficiency, because some days he is SO much better than others!! I have tried keeping a food log but DH gives him a good portion of his food (and doesn't log it), I guess we can try again. Every time I think I've tracked down the problem food, we'll do some trials, but it ends up being very mixed results. I thought he might have a problem with gluten but he hasn't had any in months and he's still like this sometimes (though I think he does do better overall off gluten, I'm not positive). I thought it was soy but sometimes when he eats soy he's fine. I thought maybe citrus, but again, sometimes he has citrus & is fine. So I feel like I'm chasing my tail, getting nowhere, or just totally missing something obvious. It might just be his erratic sleep??? IDK.
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