The normal level of activity and energy for preschool children can be overwhelming; combined with a naturally short attention span and a healthy curiosity about the world around them, normal preschoolers can literally run circles around their parents for a good portion of the time.
Is My Preschooler Too Hyperactive?
Most preschoolers are bundles of nervous energy, always on the go and always on to the next adventure. This extremely high level of activity can leave parents exhausted and wondering if their child may be suffering from hyperactivity. In most cases, however, this energy level is natural for children of preschool age. Most pediatricians and medical experts recommend against diagnosing children under the age of five with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or prescribing medications based on such a diagnosis. The normal level of activity and energy for preschool children can be overwhelming; combined with a naturally short attention span and a healthy curiosity about the world around them, normal preschoolers can literally run circles around their parents for a good portion of the time.
Active or Hyperactive?
While high levels of energy and activity are expected from preschoolers, there are a few warning signs that sometimes indicate a more serious problem may exist. These include:
• Inability to concentrate on a task for more than a few minutes.
• Constant fidgeting or squirming, especially when doing things the child enjoys.
• Frequent failure to complete one activity before beginning the next.
• Continual talking, even during inappropriate times.
• Running rather than walking nearly all the time.
• Lack of self-control.
• Impatience or frustration with a task within a short period of time.
• Lack of attentiveness to detail and consequent failure to follow instructions correctly.
• Aggressive or physically violent behavior toward adults or other children.
While most toddlers and preschool students exhibit at least some of these behaviors upon occasion, a consistent pattern of hyperactive behavior can be indicative that the child suffers from some form of ADHD. The symptoms must be pronounced, consistent, and present in more than one environment; for instance, a child that only exhibits these characteristics at school may be reacting to the environment rather than a developmental condition. Even if all criteria for ADHD diagnosis are not present, any concerns should be discussed with the child’s pediatrician in order to determine the root cause of these symptoms. This is especially true if violent or disruptive behavior is present, since this indicates a lack of control over emotional reactions that can be dangerous to the child and his or her peers.
Types of ADHD
Medical studies have identified three varieties of ADHD based on the symptoms presented by the patient. The most commonly diagnosed type is attention deficit disorder, also known as ADD and characterized by a clinical inability to concentrate on tasks and activities; this variety of ADHD lacks the hyperactivity seen in other types of ADHD and is usually not diagnosed in children under five. Children suffering from hyperactive-impulsive ADHD usually have difficulty sitting still for short periods of time and often fail to demonstrate good self-control in everyday situations. Finally, combined ADHD includes elements of both ADD and hyperactive-impulsive disorders and usually requires medication for effective management of the condition. Even though medical experts warn against diagnosing these conditions prior to age five, some elements of ADHD may be present in children as young as two.
Treatments and Prognosis
A number of prescription medications are used to treat ADHD symptoms; however, these are not recommended for children under five as researchers have not yet determined the long-term effects of these medications on younger children. Behavioral therapy can alleviate many of the symptoms, especially when combined with positive reinforcement and gentle encouragement. As an added bonus, these techniques can help normal high-energy toddlers and preschoolers control their activity level more effectively and prepare them for the more structured environment they will face in primary school. Parents, preschool teachers, and pediatricians can work together to help devise solutions that work for the child and can help to ensure success in later academic endeavors.