Six Warning Signs of ADHD in Toddlers

Have you ever wondered if your toddler was more active than normal? Here are six signs of ADHD in toddlers that you can use when discussing the possibility with your child’s pediatrician.

1. Using Dangerous Behavior

Toddlers with ADHD actually have less stimulation in their brains, and therefore, they need more stimulation to get their brains to a baseline level of arousal. To gain this stimulation, they may use “novelty seeking” behaviors, which can be extremely risk-taking and dangerous to themselves! Novelty seeking and risk taking is also associated with lack of impulse control, and impulsivity is also a large part of ADHD.

For example, the child may attempt to hang over a two-story banister, jump down an entire flight of stairs, climb up a bookcase, or swing from the drapes.

2. Putting Others in Danger

All toddlers lack impulse control, but toddlers with ADHD lack impulse control even more than their typical peers. They struggle with delaying gratification, so they want what they want now. Therefore, it can be difficult for them to function in social situations with other children.

For example, they often put others in danger by acting on impulse and becoming physically aggressive by biting, hitting, kicking, pushing, or harshly taking toys out of others’ hands.

3. Difficulty with Maintaining Friendships

All toddlers are just learning basic social skills for initiating and maintaining relationships and are in need of some adult guidance for this process. However, it’s even more difficult for toddlers with ADHD to use expected social skills.

For example, toddlers with ADHD interrupt others and talk over peers frequently. They tend to take over activities, use a loud voice or loud feet when others are not, and become impatient when having to wait their turn. When these behaviors are used regularly, they obviously struggle to maintain friends.

4. Falling Behind Academically

If preschoolers seem behind their peers academically, teachers will first put informal interventions or accommodations in the classroom to help them succeed. If this does not prove successful, learning disabilities or attentional difficulties (or both) are suspected and can be further investigated.

5. Excessive Tantrumming

All toddlers will throw temper tantrums now and again. However, toddlers with ADHD can tantrum for extended periods of time: 15-30 minutes at time, on a daily basis, and sometimes several times per day. During these tantrums, they may lose control of their bodies and lose all rational thought.

These tantrums are a combination of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional impulsivity that comes along with ADHD. Many of these tantrums will be triggered by “minor” events that their same-aged peers may not even react to.

6. Overreacting Positively

Parents love to see their child excited about things. However, if a toddler regularly overreacts positively to a “minor” event, this is also reason for concern.

For example, a child may hear he is getting to go outside and ride his bike, which he gets the opportunity to do regularly. The child may begin jumping from couch to couch out of excitement and yelling loudly with his hands in the air for several minutes. While this behavior is occurring, it is especially difficult for the child to make the transition to actually be able to participate in the activity he is excited about.

Published on: June 17, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Donna Mac

Donna is the author of Toddlers & ADHD: Relief for Parents, A Guide for Clinicians and Teachers . She has a background in early childhood developmental psychology and has worked professionally with ADHD as a teacher, as a nature-based summer camp director, and currently as a licensed clinical therapist.

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