Meltdowns are common in the toddler years.

ADHD & Impulsive Behavior in Toddlers

by Beth Greenwood

As any parent of a 3-year-old can tell you, the words “active” and “toddler” go together like ham and eggs. Toddlers are naturally busy, inquisitive and on the go. When something frustrates them, they are prone to tantrums and sobbing meltdowns. Toddlers are also likely to look before they leap, walk, run, reach or do just about anything, which is why they need so much supervision. It can be hard to tell if what you’re seeing is normal toddler behavior or the early signs of a problem such as ADHD.

1. Toddlers and Self-Control

Toddlers are still very self-focused and, although they are beginning to understand that some kinds of behavior are not OK, when they see something interesting, they don’t have the self-control to stop – they just grab that hot curling iron or paint the wall instead of the paper. You should expect to repeat yourself, because your toddler isn’t going to “get it” the first or probably even the fifth time. If your toddler seems to repeat the same kind of behavior over and over again, even when she knows from experience that the cat will scratch when its tail is pulled, it could be more than just her age, though.

2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a brain disorder that may be caused by genetics, the environment or a combination of factors – researchers aren’t sure, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A child with ADHD doesn’t mean to be inattentive or forgetful or hyperactive; he simply can’t help it, because his brain is different than that of a child without ADHD. ADHD usually becomes apparent before the age of 7 and may show up even in 2 or 3-year olds.

3. ADHD and Behavior

ADHD can magnify the usual toddler characteristics dramatically. While a normal toddler might switch from playing with cars to flipping through a picture book, a toddler with ADHD may try a dozen different activities in the space of half an hour. Toddlers with ADHD often are so easily distracted that before you finish a six-word sentence, they have gone on to a different subject or are looking around the room. They can’t sit still even for a couple of minutes, and a trip in the car can be a nightmare because they talk, squirm, kick and wriggle for miles on end.

4. Normal Behavior vs. ADHD

It’s hard to distinguish normal toddler behavior from ADHD, but kids with ADHD tend to be hyperactive, impulsive or inattentive in all situations. If she goes to pre-school, talk to her teachers to see if she is constantly turning the classroom upside down with her antics or regularly getting into fights with the other kids. If you and her teachers see a consistent pattern, have a discussion with your pediatrician or family doctor. ADHD can be managed, and it should be, because kids with ADHD can go on to have problems in school, at work or in relationships. If it’s just normal toddleritis, practice deep breathing and counting to 10 – she’ll grow out of it eventually.

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