It’s easy to love a baby—they’re portable, they don’t talk back, and they sleep…a lot. But the minute those legs start moving across the floor, it’s game on for parents! With each step toward independence, toddlers constantly test their boundaries which is equal parts thrilling and frustrating. From birth to age 3 their little heads and tiny human bodies are exploding with activity—more than a million neural connections are produced each second—helping to power up the skills needed to walk, talk, feed, and learn to soothe themselves.

Although children as young as 4 can be diagnosed with ADHD, it’s unusual for families to receive a diagnosis in children who don’t attend school full-time. But according to a Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics study approximately 237,000 preschoolers (2 to 5 years old) have an ADHD diagnosis (2011-2012).1,2

Here, an ADHD expert explains how to detect early signs that your young child may be struggling with a neurological challenge.

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How to Identify ADHD in a Toddler

Emotional control—or lack of it—is one of the best predictors of ADHD in young children. Children with intense emotions and who are not able to self-soothe may be showing early signs of ADHD Most symptoms fall into two key areas.

#1. Inattention. Poor attention is common for toddlers and preschoolers, so this is a tricky symptom to focus on. But if you notice your child consistently has trouble listening to a story, settling down for a nap, or focusing long enough to finish eating their snack, it might be worth investigating a little further.

#2.Hyperactivity/impulsivity. Again, most toddlers can be hyperactive, but those with ADHD have more trouble than other toddlers and tend to exhaust everyone around them because they can be walking safety hazards. For example, they might run into the street or climb too high with little fear of danger. They also never stop moving, talking, or making noises. Despite their constant energy, they seem to need extraordinarily little rest.

Updated: Apr 7, 2021
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