Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers

Written by Robin Madell | Published on January 15, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on January 15, 2014

It can be difficult to spot the subtle signs.

Recognizing ADHD in Toddlers

Does your child have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD? It’s not always easy to tell since toddlers tend to have difficulty paying attention overall.

But ADHD is more than just typical toddler behaviors. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the condition can extend beyond toddler age to affect teens and even adults. This is why it’s important to recognize signs of ADHD in early childhood.

Read on for a checklist of symptoms to watch out for.

Is It ADHD?

According to the Mayo Clinic, toddler-aged children, ages two or three years old can display symptoms of ADHD.

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are three main signs of the condition in kids of any age, according to the NIH.

But these behaviors occur in children without ADHD as well. Your child won’t be diagnosed with the condition unless symptoms continue for over six months.

Difficulty Paying Attention

inattentive young girl

There are a number of indications that your toddler has problems with inattention, a key sign of ADHD. These include:

  • inability to focus on one activity
  • trouble completing tasks before getting bored
  • difficulty listening as a result of distraction
  • problems following instructions and processing information

Your doctor can help you determine whether your child’s behaviors are more extreme than those of other toddlers the same age.

Fidgeting and Squirming

hyperactive young girl

In the past, ADHD was called “ADD” for “attention deficit disorder.” As reported by the Mayo Clinic, the medical community now prefers to call the condition ADHD because the disorder also includes a component of hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Signs of hyperactivity that may indicate your toddler has ADHD include:

  • being overly fidgety and squirmy
  • inability to sit still for calm activities like eating and having books read to them
  • excessive talking and noise-making
  • running around from toy to toy, constantly in motion

Impulsive Tots

impulsive young boy

Another telltale symptom of ADHD is impulsivity. Signs that your toddler has overly impulsive behaviors include:

  • displaying extreme impatience with others
  • refusal to wait his/her turn when playing with other children
  • interrupting when others are talking
  • blurting out comments at inappropriate times
  • difficulty controlling one’s emotions; prone to outbursts
  • intrudes when others are playing rather than asking first to join in

More Signs and Symptoms

young boy exhibiting adhd symptoms

The Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) has identified several other warning signs of ADHD in toddlers ages 3-4 years. The KKI notes that children in this age group may become injured from running too fast or not following instructions.

More signs of ADHD include:

  • aggressive behavior when playing
  • not cautious with strangers; overly bold
  • endangering oneself or others due to fearlessness
  • inability to hop on one foot by age 4

Get It Right

It is possible to misdiagnose a child with ADHD because most toddlers will exhibit a lack of focus, excessive energy, and impulsivity at different times.

The NIH reports that it’s easy for parents and even teachers to mistake ADHD for other problems. Toddlers who are sitting quietly and behaving in preschool may actually not be paying attention. Children who are hyperactive might just have disciplinary problems.

If you’re feeling dubious about your child’s behavior, don’t guess—see your doctor.

Next Steps

The NIH notes that ADHD is very common among children with conditions pertaining to the brain. But just because ADHD is common, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t warrant concern.

If you’re worried that your toddler may show signs of ADHD, talk to your pediatrician about how to manage it. While there is no cure for ADHD, through medication and lifestyle changes, you can relieve your child’s symptoms and give your child a better chance for future success.

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Show Sources

  • staff, Mayo. "Definition." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adhd/DS00275/DSECTION=symptoms>.
  • staff, Mayo. "Definition." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adhd/DS00275>.
  • "Is it ADHD or Typical Toddler Behavior? Ten Early Signs of ADHD Risk in Preschool Age Children." Kennedy Krieger Institute |. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2013. <http://www.kennedykrieger.org/overview/news/it-adhd-or-typical-toddler-behavior-ten-early-signs-adhd-risk-preschool-age-children>.
  • "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." NIMH RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/index.shtml>.

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