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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Emotion Dysregulation: The Forgotten Symptom

Although inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity are the key symptoms when diagnosing ADHD, emotional dysregulation is a core deficit of ADHD and one of the best early warning signs.3,4,5,6

Kids who struggle to regulate their emotions tend to get easily excited or upset. Babies can start to self-regulate by looking away from things that upset them to self-soothe. Babies with ADHD cannot respond to stress very well and will cry constantly until someone holds them because they cannot self-soothe. They tend to be fussier and harder to control than others.

As they get a little older, toddlers with ADHD continue to have low frustration tolerance and cannot manage anything challenging. They seem angry most of the time and simply cannot cope with their emotions. Even when they develop language, instead of using words to express their emotions, they continue to react behaviorally, such as throwing an explosive tantrum, running away, or becoming aggressive.

Updated: Apr 7, 2021
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