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Hyperactive or Just Active? - The Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers

Updated on July 31, 2012

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD, can be extremely disruptive to kids who are trying to get through school and navigate social environments. Unfortunately, many parents don't realize that this disorder affects their kids until it has already done some damage. Children with untreated ADHD may be considered behavior problems at school, can suffer from poor grades, and often develop other mental and emotional problems.

Early identification works best to ensure that ADHD children get the most out of their educations, but it can be hard to tell whether your child is hyperactive, or just normally active for his or her age. Knowing the most common symptoms of ADHD in toddlers can help you tell the difference and get help when it's really needed.


Many, but not all children with ADHD and the related disorder ADD are hyperactive. This is more than just the normal activity displayed by energetic kids. ADHD sufferers may be literally unable to stay still. What looks like "acting out" is actually normal, uncontrollable behavior for these children.

Children with ADHD often sleep less than other kids, too. While most children need at least 10 hours of sleep per night, ADHD kids may sleep less than their parents. These children also squirm, fidget, talk more than is appropriate, have quick tempers and always seem to be on the go. Just remember that severe hyperactivity isn't required for an ADD or ADHD diagnosis.


Like hyperactivity, inattention in ADHD toddlers can take several different forms. The most obvious is a tendency to become distracted after only a few seconds or minutes, but this isn't the only way that children can be inattentive. In fact, ADHD kids may tend to hyperfocus on a single task. This makes it difficult for them to respond to their parents or peers, but can be harder to distinguish than "normal" inattention.

Children with ADHD may switch rapidly between individual tasks and interests, even if they are very focused on each individual thing. These kids also often make careless mistakes, misplace toys and books, or get bored with tasks before they get done. This can make school and similar environments very difficult for them, even before they enter kindergarten. Some ADHD kids can pay attention without much trouble, but are still hyperactive and impulsive.


Impulsive behavior is one of the hallmarks of ADHD. Children with this symptom often have trouble controlling their actions. Like other symptoms of ADHD in toddlers, this behavior does not show up in all cases. When it does, it often appears suddenly and without warning.

Kids with impulsivity problems may have a poor understanding of the boundaries and personal space of others. They also frequently have less grasp of the consequences of their actions than other children of the same age and may act more like younger children in this respect. Impulsive children may interrupt others, intrude on conversations, talk loudly and constantly, and have trouble keeping their emotions in check.

Treatment Options

Treatment choices for children with ADHD vary, especially for the very young. Many parents don't want to jump right into using drugs such as Ritalin, due to concerns about the effects on their kids' health. Non-medication options include behavioral training, special diets, herbal and nutritional supplementation, and alternative medications such as homeopathic remedies.

Some of these treatments are currently supported only by anecdotal evidence, as no studies on their effectiveness against ADHD have yet been performed, but many parents say that they do help. Inactivity is among the worst things you can do in response to ADHD, so learn the symptoms, then think hard about your treatment options.


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