ADHD in Toddlers

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Toddlers are known for having short attention spans and acting without thinking, they often become overly excited and are full of energy. All of these characteristics could also be symptoms of ADHD. The "terrible twos" are quite similar to ADHD.

Because of this, ADHD is not often diagnosed in toddlers. Many doctors, instead, will "wait and see" what happens as a child grows and matures. Once a child enters school and is required to show more responsibility and to complete tasks within an allotted amount of time, symptoms of ADHD may be more pronounced and easier to recognize. Some children have been diagnosed as early as two years old, but this is not very common.

Some of the ways ADHD develops in toddlers:


Toddlers are extremely active, however, toddlers with ADHD are always in motion. They may rarely sit down and resist being still, even for a moment. They are constantly running, jumping or otherwise in continuous motion. They are often too busy to stop to eat or and will get up over and over from any activity that requires them to sit for more than a minute or two.

Toddlers with ADHD can become over-stimulated and overexcited easily but it can take a long period of time for them to calm back down after this. In situations with a lot of stimulation, they can become impossible to control, hitting, crying or screaming.

Many times, toddlers with ADHD will be up early in the morning and still be ready to play late at night. Some toddlers with ADHD will give up napping or take short catnaps during the day. Sleep problems tend to worsen symptoms of ADHD, causing both parent and child to become irritable.


Impulsiveness is another typical characteristic of toddlers, but magnified in children with ADHD. The toddler with ADHD may jump off playground equipment, jump from windows and run into the street. Toddlers with ADHD cannot be left unsupervised, even for a moment. According to, toddlers with ADHD "take more than their share of cleaning product overdoses, experience more accidental falls, break more toys and run into the road more frequently"

Some signs of ADHD in toddlers:

  • Inability to sustain attention, even for a few minutes

  • Constantly distracted by sights and sounds

  • Difficulty sustaining eye contact

  • Able to pay attention to certain high interest things

  • Able to stay on task in high energy level tasks

  • Excessively hyperactive

  • Always in motion

  • Lack of interest in reading, sitting on laps or cuddling

  • Difficulty calming down once overexcited

  • Highly impulsive

  • Accident prone

  • Difficulty sleeping

A child exhibiting some or all of these signs does not necessarily have ADHD as some children will have some of these characteristics but not have ADHD. Parents should discuss concerns with their physician.

One reason it can be difficult to diagnose ADHD in toddlers is because children may exhibit a large range of behaviors. Although attention spans at this age may be below the norm, this is not necessarily seen as a problem. Children often develop at different rates and while a child may seem to be less mature than his or her peers, time may solve the problem.

Parents can benefit, however, from beginning some early behavioral modification programs at home. Instituting a positive reward system and focusing on acceptable behavior rather than adopting a punitive process can be helpful for toddlers with ADHD. In addition, all children with ADHD tend to thrive in a structured environment. Setting up a daily routine can help.


"What is ADHD?", 2002, Jim Chandler, M.D., Attention Deficit Disorder Resources

"(ADD) ADHD at Different Ages", Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Edge Foundation

"Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder", 2008, Aug, Kevin Leehey, M.D.,

"Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder", 2008, April 3, Author Unknown, National Institute of Mental Health

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.