Children often can be very active when younger. At times you may wonder if your non-stop toddler has ADHD. But only about 2% of children in the UK have ADHD. It's more likely that your child is just a healthy, energetic toddler however sometimes difficulties in paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness where day-to-day life is impacted may be due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
People with ADHD can find activities such as school and social situations more difficult as they can find it hard to pay attention, follow conversation or take turns.
Children may have symptoms of both inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or they may have symptoms of just 1 of these types of behaviour. These behaviours occur in more than 1 situation, such as at school and at home.
Inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing)
The main signs of inattentiveness are:
- having a short attention span and being easily distracted
- making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
- appearing forgetful or losing things
- being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
- appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
- constantly changing activity or task
- having difficulty organising tasks
Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:
- being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
- constantly fidgeting
- being unable to concentrate on tasks
- excessive physical movement
- excessive talking
- being unable to wait their turn
- acting without thinking
- interrupting conversations
- little or no sense of danger
These symptoms can cause significant problems in a child's life, such as underachievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.
Many children go through phases where they're restless or inattentive. This is often completely normal and does not necessarily mean they have ADHD.
But you should discuss your concerns with your child's nursery, their health visitor or a GP if you think their behaviour may be different from most children their age.
Where felt needed, your GP will make a referral to CAMHS who can support young people and their families with diagnosing of ADHD. While there is no cure for ADHD, CAMHS can support you with techniques and strategies to cope and manage the behaviours.
Caring for a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be challenging. The impulsive, fearless and chaotic behaviours typical of ADHD can make everyday activities exhausting and stressful.
Although it can be difficult at times, it's important to remember that a child with ADHD cannot help their behaviour. People with ADHD can find it difficult to suppress impulses, which means they may not stop to consider a situation, or the consequences, before they act.
If you're looking after a child with ADHD, you may find this advice helpful.
Plan the day
Plan the day so your child knows what to expect. Set routines can make a difference to how a child with ADHD copes with everyday life.
For example, if your child has to get ready for school, break it down into structured steps, so they know exactly what they need to do.
Set clear boundaries
Make sure everyone knows what behaviour is expected, and reinforce positive behaviour with immediate praise or rewards. Be clear, using enforceable consequences, such as taking away a privilege, if boundaries are overstepped and follow these through consistently.
Give specific praise. Instead of saying a general: "Thanks for doing that," you could say: "You washed the dishes really well. Thank you."
This will make it clear to your child that you're pleased and why.
If you're asking your child to do something, give brief instructions and be specific. Instead of asking: "Can you tidy your bedroom?" say: "Please put your toys into the box and put the books back onto the shelf."
This makes it clearer what your child needs to do and creates opportunities for praise when they get it right.
Set up your own incentive scheme using a points or star chart, so good behaviour can earn a privilege. For example, behaving well on a shopping trip will earn your child a trip to the park.
Involve your child in it and allow them to help decide what the privileges will be.
These charts need regular changes or they become boring. Targets should be:
- immediate – for example, daily
- intermediate – for example, weekly
- long-term – for example, 3-monthly
Try to focus on just one or two behaviours at a time.
Watch for warning signs. If your child looks like they're becoming frustrated, overstimulated and about to lose self-control, intervene.
Distract your child, if possible, by taking them away from the situation. This may calm them down.
Keep social situations short and sweet. Invite friends to play, but keep playtimes short so your child does not lose self-control. Do not aim to do this when your child is feeling tired or hungry, such as after a day at school.
Make sure your child gets lots of physical activity during the day. Walking, skipping and playing sport can help your child wear themselves out and improve their quality of sleep.
Make sure they're not doing anything too strenuous or exciting near to bedtime.
Keep an eye on what your child eats. If your child is hyperactive after eating certain foods, which may contain additives or caffeine, keep a diary of these and discuss them with a GP.
Stick to a routine. Make sure your child goes to bed at the same time each night and gets up at the same time in the morning.
Avoid overstimulating activities in the hours before bedtime, such as computer games or watching TV.
Sleep problems and ADHD can be a vicious circle. ADHD can lead to sleep problems, which in turn can make symptoms worse.
Many children with ADHD will repeatedly get up after being put to bed and have interrupted sleep patterns. Trying a sleep-friendly routine can help your child and make bedtime less of a battleground.