Is My Preschooler Too Hyperactive?

By Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

It’s perfectly normal for preschoolers to be active.  In fact, even hyperactivity isn’t necessarily a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in your child.  Preschoolers are by nature always on the go, with all kinds of excess energy to burn.

Here are some principles to keep in mind as you look for ways to help your preschooler burn off some of that extra energy.

Offer a variety of activities.

Going to the park is great for little ones, since it lets them run and climb and do all of the things their energy-filled bodies crave to do.  But that’s not your only option.  Even if you need to stay in because of weather or household duties or a napping infant, you can still find ways to keep your child active.  Put on music and dance.  Play tag.  And if you need to be getting your own chores done, be creative and find ways to work activities into what you’re doing.  Try, for example, “I bet I can fold three towels before you run to your room and back!” It doesn’t matter exactly what you do.  Just find activities that are fun, different, and allow your child to keep moving.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t be helping your preschooler learn that there are times to calm down and be quiet.  In fact, it’s important that you …

Continue introducing opportunities to practice being still.

Plan times throughout the day when your child gets to slow down so that you can both enjoy some peace.  Obviously, 30 minutes of quality educational TV  is an option.  (“Blues Clues,” “Magic School Bus,” and even “Barney” have been godsends for me more than a few times.) 

But don’t rely too much on television.  Find time to read with your child—even if you have to use silly voices and sounds to keep their interest.  You might also introduce them to imaginative play with dolls or action figures.  And don’t forget about classics like Legos, Playdough, and Tinker Toys. 

One of my best tricks to get my kids to have some quiet-play-by-yourself-time when they have lots of energy is to ask them to wait in the other room while I set up a “surprise world” for them.  It doesn’t have to be much or even super creative (and you’ll need to do it quickly.)  I might set down a towel on the floor, along with a bowl, a small stick, and an upside down box.  I might set out a few action figures, including one trapped in the volcano cave (the box) and suggest that the action figure needs to be rescued by his friends.  They can usually take it from there.

Even a hyperactive child needs to learn how to sit still at certain moments.  So watch for opportunities to help your preschooler develop this ability.  Still, that being said, …

Be careful about expecting too much.

There is absolutely such a thing as imposing too much “quiet time,” mainly because kids this age aren’t developmentally capable of sitting quietly for long (or sometimes even short) periods of time.  Being still and well-mannered through an entire meal, for example, is an awful lot to expect even from a fairly calm-natured preschooler, much less one that’s feeling active.  That’s why I always carry along Playdough, a box of bandaids, or some other activity to help get us through the meal.  Likewise, when I wash dishes, I can’t expect my preschooler to sit and calmly page through a book.  So I might set up a whole drum set of pots and pans and hand him a wooden spoon, just so I can finish a set of dishes.  Be honest with yourself during the times you get most frustrated with your preschooler and see if maybe you’re asking too much of them.

Get professional advice if you suspect something like ADHD

If you worry that what you see in your child is more than just normal rambunctiousness, you should definitely follow your instincts.  Start with your pediatrician and share your concerns.  Keep in mind that there are many other professionals, like child psychologists, who can conduct thorough evaluations to determine whether ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is the proper diagnosis for your little one.

Remember what it’s all about.

Look, I know.  Parenting a child this age is tiring.  And challenging.  And maddening.  (Did I already mention tiring?)  Our hands are full, our arms are full, our brains are full, our schedules are full. 

But so are our hearts.

So even as certain parts of parenting drive you crazy and leave you wondering how you’ll even survive to the end of the day, do your best to take advantage of every opportunity to help your little ball of energy feel your love, and develop into the fullness of who they’re supposed to be.

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