Component 3: Attention and Inhibitory Control

Learning Goal 3.a: Children’s skills increase in filtering impulses and sustaining attention on a task.

By 9 months, most children:

  • Pause or stop when an adult says “stop” or tells them not to do something
  • Demonstrate caution around new or unusual people or events
  • Explore objects by holding, mouthing, dropping, etc.

By 18 months, most children:

  • Inhibit themselves from reaching for a visible but inaccessible object or reward (e.g., a toy on the other side of a window or out of reach)
  • Attend to a short, familiar storybook but may not want to follow the book page by page

By 24 months, most children:

  • Have a general understanding of the passing of time and the meaning of phrases like “not now” and “after lunch”
  • Comply with simple two-part requests that involve waiting (e.g., “Eat your breakfast and then we’ll play with the blocks.”)

By 36 months, most children:

  • Wait to be handed a desired object
  • Attend to specific features of objects and identify elements within a complex figure (e.g., looking at a picture of a farmyard and pointing to and naming the figures of a horse, a duck, a cat, etc.)
  • Follow adult directions when given simple guidance
  • Focus on topics or materials of interest despite distractions (e.g., can dump out and solve a favorite puzzle, even with other children playing in the background)

By 48 months, most children:

  • With adult support, avoid imitating the negative behavior of another child
  • With adult reminders, wait to communicate information in a group
  • Focus on increasingly complex topics for longer periods of time
  • Return to complete a task if interrupted
  • Count only those objects in a group that have a specific attribute (e.g., all of the red cars in a picture)
  • Solve simple arithmetic problems
  • Build block buildings and include such structural features as arches and ramps

By 60 months, most children:

  • Without adult reminders, wait to communicate information in a group
  • Maintain focus on a project for a sustained period of time and over several days
  • Return with focus to an activity or project after having been away from it for a period of time
  • Demonstrate an awareness of important activities that are “coming up” or “in the near future” (e.g., keeping track of the days until a birthday or vacation trip) as a strategy to control excitement
  • Combine shapes into patterns that make new shapes or complete puzzles (e.g., rearranging a collection of circles and variously sized rectangles to make the image of a person)
  • Build complex block buildings, intentionally maintaining such features as symmetry