ADHD and Your Toddler: 4 Early Warning Signs

Although ADHD is typically not diagnosed before children enter school, there are symptoms parents of toddlers should keep an eye out for.

By Reader’s Digest Editors

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a syndrome characterized by symptoms of distractibility, inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Parents of toddlers are likely to notice behavior that sometimes fits those symptoms, but how do you know whether ADHD is a realistic concern?

In a post on ADHD and toddlers, explains that many toddlers are naturally hyper, moody, and distractible. And because the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines say children under age 6 cannot be diagnosed with ADHD, it’s difficult to say if problematic behavior is related to ADHD, or an emotional or other disorder. Another thing to keep in mind is that no imaging or lab tests are used to diagnose ADHD. Doctors make diagnoses based on behavioral symptoms and by ruling out other disorders. LIVESTRONG notes that early signs do exist, however, and says that if these signs persist, they should raise a red flag.

Be watchful for these early symptoms:

If your child seems inattentive it can really mean he is just focused on something that interests him more than what you’re trying to call attention to.  LIVESTRONG notes that toddlers with ADHD are frequently labeled inattentive when they’re actually hyperfocused. Children may rush from one activity to another, seeking something to absorb themselves in.

All kids display sleep problems, but a child with ADHD will sleep much less than the amount recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (12 to 14 hours). LIVESTRONG says while parents end up exhausted, kids with ADHD will appear unaffected by sleep deficiency. Additionally, kids with ADHD will resist sitting still for most things, even meals.

Food Sensitivities
Many toddlers with ADHD suffer from food sensitivities. Parents are advised to eliminate sugar, artificial sweeteners, food coloring, and preservatives from their child’s diets. Some parents take things even further by removing wheat, eggs, dairy, soy, chocolate, and corn.

Personal Space Issues and Impulsivity
One early symptom of ADHD is difficulty accepting personal space. Related to this are communication problems, like loud and incessant talking, or the inability to let another person speak. Young children with ADHD will also act before considering consequences, which is why these specific symptoms often develop into issues with impulsivity.


  • Your Comments

    • Rael Marie

      Many, many children are misdiagnosed, America needs to make the drug companies richer so they create “illnesses” how come most kids around the world are well adjusted?never know any child in the caribbean to have ADHD while growing up! true, some kids used to be extra “wild” and hyper, but with the right parenting and activities, they grow up NORMAL! American people, stop subscribing to this, your kids are not doing any better at school!

    • Tam

      Hello everyone. My daughter is 3 1/2 and she does have a lot of energy. She gets into everything and she is usually on the go, but she will sit and watch tv, sit and play with her tablet, used to take regular naps. Lately, her naps have been diminished. Many times she refuses to take one, but she does sleep a faithful 10 hours every night. My sleeping schedule is abnormal and changes in weird ways. I wonder if it is affecting her sleeping schedule? She language disorder that stemmed from my husband and I speaking two different languages in the household. Children in bilingual homes are supposed to be slow for a little while, then catch up, but she never caught up to where she was supposed to be. However, her cognitive functioning is good. She loves electronics and knows how to turn on and off everything in the house. I do understand how the lacking of language skills can impair their maturity as an individual. She just now started saying three-four word sentences. There aren’t any other kids for her to play with and I haven’t been able to get her into school because of her birthdate being a few days too late. I have also had many problems with her incessant climbing on everything. Thoughts??

      • Tam

        Oh, another thing. She used to bang her head on the floor when she became very upset and she is extremely defiant. If you are ignoring her, she will scream at you or hit you.

    • cej

      I have to say that a kid should be looked more into adhd when the start kinder or 1st grade.. also I understand that a 1 to 3 yr old woyud be hyper, active all the time because there in a stage where they are learning when the develop new things that they couldn’t do before even as a 4 year old they want to be independent think they coyld do want they want. I have a a 4 yr old boy out of thpse four years my son was never like that until he I got pregnant from my second son n he is 7 months . His teacher told me it could be likely that he could be adhd but I been doing allot of research some doctors says is beacuase their still immature and I believe that we as parents need to find ways and actually take the time to see how we can work with are kids by doing projects together ir individual things that look inspiring and actually acknowledge there work by putting displaying them showing that we care but this is just my opinion that I would like to share and do hope it will be useful because have a very hyper or active kids is allot of work :)

      • sandra

        You are so right

    • amanda

      Hi I need help with questions about my two year old

    • PM

      Articles like this atrociously misinform… Finding areas of difficulties, and seeking management and intervention is more important than slapping with an ADHD label at such an early age.. Most things people are commenting here… are not necessarily ADHD… So quit labelling so frivolously…

    • Concerned Parent ?

      My daughter is almost two years old and I am concerned she might have ADHD. I know it’s to soon to tell but I can’t help but notices certain signs when it comes to her behavior. Some people say it’s just the whole “terrible two” stage but I tend to notice certain differences between her and other toddlers her age. She has most of the signs listed above. When trowing her tantrums she throws herself back, screams, kicks, and hits herself on her head. Sometimes she bangs her head against the wall, pulls her hair, and pinches herself. She also tends to hit people around her when she doesn’t get her way. She doesn’t like to be in her car seat AT ALL ! She literately screams her lungs out the whole way. Same thing with her high chair and stroller when she doesn’t have something to distract her. She’s always up and on the go and loves to climb on top of everything even when instructed not to. When told “NO” she gets very sentimental and starts to cry as if someone really hurt her feelings and other times gets very upset and begins to trough a tantrum. There are also times where she will just ignore us completely and continue as if it’s a game and laugh. She is very impatient and doesn’t really take interest in doing things for morn the 5 to 10 minutes. She always has to have one of us behind her at all times and doesn’t really like it when were sitting down. If we do not get up right away then she begins to scream and hit herself or through herself around until we stand up.She likes to hop on her knees a lot and when she lays down for bed she likes to pull of fiddle around with my hair. She also tends to pinch me, bite me, or stick her finger in my mouth or bellybutton? She love’ to play with others and is usually very friendly with other children. She is my first child so i don’t know if this is common in most children her age or if I’m just being a little paranoid? Please help?

      • Jessieh93

        My daughter is EXACTLY the same, shes only 17 months but gets ao angry to the point where she hits herself in the face, she wont sit in her pushchair or highchair for longer that 10 minutes and if i carry her she wriggles to be down and never walks she constantly runs, everywhere! She also put her hand through my hair on a night or she liked her hands to be under me so she scratches me to get them under my arm, she climbs on everything and when i say no she looks at me like im an idiot or runs over and goes to hit me. The biggest concern for me is the hitting, more that she gets that angry that she hits herself, over simple things like asking her to say please!


      My 2 year old never stops. unless he is painting, it is the only thing that will keep him still for more than 10minutes. and 20 minutes is the maximum he has ever sat and painted/coloured. and I have to be with him, he will not just sit and do it on his own.
      He barely sleeps, he does not nap and hasnt since he turned 2 over 6months ago, he sleeps from 11pm/12am to about 9am.
      He is very violent at times and hits me and punches me, and his dad, his nan and his 1 year old sister, sometimes for no reason, other times because we are talking and he wants us to look at him, or we are paying attention to his sister.
      He slaps himself and punches himself on the head and he has done this for as long as I can remember, but it is getting worse. When he is frustrated he will slap his face over and over again, and scream and shout and punch walls, toys, people, everything.
      He constantly beats up the dog, he will run after him and kick him or hit him with a toy if he is annoyed, or just bored. he knows it is wrong and will run and hide under the table laughing if he thinks he is going to get into trouble,
      He jumps on furniture and people for hours every evening, in between running from one thing and another, like TV, Blocks, and cars, running from one to the other and jumping on the couch in between, It gets frustrating that he will keep jumping on me or his dad in the evening. he will hurt us by jumping on our face, or laps and climbing up us, an he does not listen when we ask him several times to stop. He just laughs and if I put him the corner he will say sorry and cry and then do it again within 5 minutes.
      He is very clever and talks beyond his years, he also walked early, 10.5months. He can count, but usually wont when asked. He recognises letters and will name them when he sees them, but again he will not do it when asked. he is the same with colours. He is able to talk about things that will happen tomorrow, and things that happened today and lastnight. he can recall things that happened yesterday and during the summer. and things that will happen when he is bigger and when he wakes up..
      I am constantly tired with him, and I find myself organising set things to do all day with him, but it does not calm him down. I will say , lets stick stickers in your book now, an he might look for 2 minutes, then lets do blocks, and he just throws them around and runs from room to room while I sit building towers with his sister, then he will knock anything we build, no matter how many times I ask him not to. Then We will go collect leaves, and do a puzzle and go for a walk and visit the library, but nothing seems to keep him occupied, unless he is painting (something we do everyday!)
      And he does not stop moving. if he is watching TV he has to be swinging his arms, or slapping his mouth or punching a pillow (usually as he goes to punch his sister and I tell him not to, so the cushion gets it)
      I think he has ADHD but I dont know what to do? Everything I read says he cant be diagnosed till he is at least 6. and I dont want him on medication, I just want some help and to be told how to discipline and what can help him? I am contemplating going to the health nurse, but my family says not to as he will be ‘labelled’ and I am not going to give him the medication so there is no point?

    • Autumnamick@outlook.comAutumn

      My son will be 3 in November and he really is quite smart. However, I absolutely can not get this boy to be still! Even if he is watching a video or just riding in the car he will constantly rock back and forth every time he sits down. He constantly has to get into things he knows is very dangerous and does some pretty crazy stuff that has resulted in a few ER visits. Is he ADHD or just being a kid? I have ADHD myself so that’s why I’m thinking he may have it as well.

      • choppychopp

        Has anybody looked at mild autism or aspergers rather than adhd??

    • claire

      my daughter is 5 and is very hyper never listens to instructions always interupts and she be naughty at nursery a mother pulled me saying my daughter spat in her sons lunch .dont know where shes picking this filfhy habbit up so i went to chat to teacher im 6 mths pregnant and just broke down in tears im finding so hard and feel like a worthless mother. I have an app with the adhd team hoping they can solve this cos im at my witts end does any other mother feel the same way as i do

    • Karin Wempe

      interesting that LIVESTRONG is branching out into giving advice on ADHD….