Parents frequently ask me if their toddler’s high energy will mean they have an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Let me pay attention to this concern and provide some information on energy levels and children.

Toddlers and preschoolers usually have lots of energy.

This energy is not due to poor parenting issues or even taking in too much sugar.

More than 40% of parents with high-energy children between the ages of 3 and 4 will ask me about ADHD.

ADHD is usually only an issue when high energy lasts for at least a year after age 4. Or it can be an issue when a child’s energy level is far higher than other children the same age. It is actually rare for a child health care professional to confirm the diagnosis of ADHD until after age 6.

The best way to see if your child is an energy outlier is to ask their daycare and preschool teachers. Is your child is more active, more restless, less attentive and more impulsive than the rest of the class? Even so, less than 10% of children who concern preschool teachers actually will have ADHD.

So what can be done for your high-energy toddler?

  • Don’t label your child as “Dennis the Menace” or the label will stick. High energy does not indicate a “bad child” or your being a “bad parent.”
  • Keep a routine in place. Order will slow the frenetic pace.
  • Don’t put your child in a situation that is doomed to fail. This could include making them sit thought a lengthy religious service or dinner in a fancy restaurant.
  • Don’t physically punish your child. Set limits. (For example, you might tell your child to jump up and down on the floor, but not on the bed.) And don’t forget to praise quiet play when it happens.
  • And finally, parents, take care of yourself. The more relaxed you are, the better equipped you are to deal with your toddler.

Hopefully tips like these will energize you to deal with your toddler’s high energy level. Only in a small number of children does it represent a hyperactivity issue, such as ADHD, that requires medical attention.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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