As a mom, I know that toddler years with your child can be full of fun, mischief, running around, and trying to avoid bedtimes. (Isn’t it amazing how many magical bathroom breaks, stories, and songs they’ll request after 8 P.M.)? These little ones are full of excitement and energy.

However, as a healthcare professional, I know that many concerned parents of busy toddlers begin looking for symptoms of ADHD early on in life. 

Currently, roughly 9.4% of school-aged children have the condition according to the Centers for Disease Control, and it’s easy to worry. However, I’d love to put your fears to rest, so read on for some peace of mind about toddlers and ADHD. 

Possible Signs of ADHD in Toddlers

So, what are the signs in a child’s behavior that can help identify Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in very young children? 

While sources conflict on how early these can be identified, there are three hallmarks used in the diagnosis of ADHD in preschool-aged children and up:

  • Inattention. This can look like difficulty focusing, wandering from the task at hand, having a short attention span, trouble listening, or being easily bored.
  • Hyperactivity. This can present as fidgeting, tapping, talking out of turn or constantly, changing between toys frequently, or trouble sitting still for quieter activities like reading.
  • Impulsivity. This may look like impatience with themselves or others, interrupting, barging in when others are playing, making decisions without thinking them through, and more.

More extreme scenarios would include overly bold or aggressive behavior when socializing with others, or even putting self or others in danger due to a lack of forethought. 

ADHD affects different areas of the brain — including the ones that control emotion. It can be common for children (and adults) to be overwhelmed by intense and unexpected fits of uncontainable emotion. 

Diagnosing ADHD in Children

Now, I’d like to ask you: have you ever met a toddler that wasn’t occasionally hyperactive, inattentive, or prone to impulsive behaviors? What about one that never fidgets or blurts out their thoughts? Honestly, I expect to see these behaviors in children that are 2-3 years of age — even into 4-5 years old. 

During this stage for younger children, many of the classic symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder are also just normal signs of brain development. So, if typical toddlers can display signs of ADHD, should we be diagnosing in early childhood?

Why I Don’t Diagnose ADHD in Toddlers

Most qualified health professionals don’t diagnose ADHD in toddlers for the reasons listed above; the symptoms of ADHD and typical behavior for toddlers are just too similar. Labeling a child with ADHD is a quick diagnosis, but can overlook the many other reasons they may be hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive. 

Perhaps they’re experiencing trouble focusing because they’re dealing with inflammation due to too much sugar or an undiagnosed food allergy, exposure to mold, or other environmental toxins. Perhaps their inattention is a result of environment, overstimulation, lack of primitive reflex integration, etc. 

Lastly, there’s a chance you may just have a child with high energy levels who needs to start a sport or was born for the stage.

A premature ADHD diagnosis, whether due to an overly concerned parent or careless mistakes by a pediatrician, can lead to irreversible overreactions. 

It may change a child’s elementary school experience, affect their self-esteem, or confuse proper development because of medication and health care services they simply don’t need. 

It’s simply not an age-appropriate diagnosis.

Effective Treatment for Early ADHD

In my practice, I’ve seen how many of today’s prevalent health issues– autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and more — can often come from the same root causes. If your little one is bouncing off the walls, there are many reasons to consider.

I often recommend first assessing gut health, a common issue for children with any of the aforementioned conditions. The motion you’re seeing could be due to constipation, especially if they’re not able to communicate that concept yet. 

Getting the right nutrients has shown promising results in treating ADHD symptoms, and a lack of good nutrition can affect toddlers developmentally. 

Environmental toxins or heavy metals can also lead to strange behaviors in young children, as can stress or immune system problems. 

A good functional medicine doctor can help you analyze your child’s microbiome, toxin levels, allergies, and diet for optimal results.

It’s also worth looking into behavioral therapy as a way to moderate your child’s symptoms that are concerning you. Behavior therapy has far fewer side effects than starting an ADHD medication so young, especially since it’s so difficult to be sure of your diagnosis. 

In fact, methylphenidate (used to treat ADHD) can have terrible effects on little ones.

Looking to the Future

If your toddler squirms, blurts out words, or makes split-second decisions, you’re in good company — most of them do. 

If you’re growing particularly alarmed by what seem to be symptoms of ADHD, first try looking to nutritional, detoxifying, and behavioral interventions before seeking a diagnosis and medication.


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